Resolution to writers’ strike needed now

Perhaps the beginning of the semester isn’t the best time to be thinking about what’s on television, but if you’re wondering why your favorite shows are stuck in perpetual reruns and reality programming is exploding, there’s a reason.

On Nov. 5, the Writers Guild of America, or WGA, went on strike. The writers in this union are responsible for the vast majority of scripted entertainment in both television and film. For some time, the guild had been negotiating a new contract with the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers, or AMPTP, that comprises the heads of the major entertainment companies in Hollywood. But when negotiations broke down, the writers walked off the job, effectively shutting down programs in production across America.

The main sticking point in negotiations is writer compensation for Internet-based content. That could include proceeds from show sales on iTunes, advertising that appears next to shows that are streamed online for free and money generated from online-exclusive content. Writers are paid nothing for these revenue streams.

The writers are entitled to residuals that are paid to them every time their work is rebroadcasted, in addition to what they earn in their individual contracts. This means that whoever wrote the “Law and Order” rerun you watched last night received a few dollars for it. In reality, the vast majority of writers depend on these residuals to support their families while they jump from job to job in an incredibly fickle Hollywood market.

The AMPTP is resisting the guild’s demand to include online residuals in the new contract because it claims that the market is just too new for them to commit to a set rate like those in place for reruns and DVD sales.

Talks have broken down and none are scheduled. The first casualties of the strike, late-night comedy shows, have just recently returned. But only David Letterman and Craig Ferguson have their writers because Letterman’s production company, WorldWide Pants Inc., broke with the AMPTP and made a side deal with the WGA.

But unfortunately, thousands of production workers remain out of a job. These below-the-line employees represent the make-up artists, set designers, sound technicians and dozens of other workers that an average production needs. While the writers and producers continue to duke it out, these people have been hurt the worst.

It’s time for the writers and producers to return to the bargaining table so thousands of people can return to work. Otherwise, everyone will be stuck with a terrible version of “Deal or No Deal.”