Friday, February 15, 2008

THE WRITERS STRIKE IS OVER! HOORAY?




I'm very happy that the writers' strike is finally over. However, even though I've been a member of the Writers Guild for about 35 years, both the strike and its aftermath were a bit odd for me. You see, about five years ago, after working quite steadily as a television writer for many years, I made a big mistake: I allowed some of my hair to turn gray.

In the eyes of those at the networks and studios, I was suddenly too old to be funny and too old to be a good writer. I joined many people of similar vintage as being an unemployed TV writer. Then along came the strike, and I was no longer unemployed. I was "on strike." I picketed with my "union brothers and sisters." I was part of a group trying to bring about an important change. I no longer had to go into a long explanation to my neighbor whenever he asked me how my television career was going. And then the strike was over. Hooray! It was time for striking writers to go back to work. But not for me. As a television writer, I was back to being "unemployed."


As a writer, I hadn't really been unemployed before the strike. I just hadn't been writing for TV. I've been writing my column for over six years, and I'm always working on other things as well. Yet that doesn't mean there haven't been times when I felt a tad bit of embarrassment or disappointment that I was no longer working on a television show. It was probably my imagination, but I often felt that some of the mothers with their little kids would wonder why an able-bodied man like me was walking through the park in the middle of the day. So while I certainly wasn't thrilled that we television writers went on strike, as the result of a simple vote, I had moved into a different category of people with no regular job to go to.

I knew that whatever gains the writers might get from a strike would probably never benefit me, but I was completely supportive of the Guild. I had things like healthcare and residuals because writers struck and made sacrifices many years ago. So, it was fine with me to picket for a few hours here and there, knowing that the beneficiaries of my shoe leather would be writers of the future.

During the strike, I was not only concerned about writers who were suffering psychically and financially, but about the "collateral damaged" folks of the strike: the makeup people, the grips, the waitresses at restaurants near studios, etc. But I didn't worry every minute. There was something enjoyable about the camaraderie at the Guild meetings and at picketing. And I didn't need any convincing that our cause was just. But as someone who hadn't been working before the strike was called, I never felt completely a part of it.

When writers expressed unbridled enthusiasm for the strike at the very first meeting, I wondered if they realized how serious a strike was. I also wondered how many of them would be so enthusiastic in a few weeks, or a few months. And I knew that whenever the overwhelming majority of writers would feel that it was time to accept management's proposal, I wouldn't feel comfortable voting against it regardless of what I thought of the offer. I wouldn't be able to ask working writers to stay out longer than they wanted, considering that I wasn't going to be working in television either way.

So even though I may not be able to say, "I'm not working in television now" with the same pride that I could say, "I'm on strike," I don't miss it. Overall, I'd rather be an unemployed television writer than a striking one. I've gotten used to it over the years, and I'm pretty comfortable with that position. And why should I care what those mothers in the park think of me in the middle of the day? In a little while, they're probably going to go home and watch a rerun of some show I wrote - – a show that will pay me a residual because somebody else went on strike a long time ago.

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