This viewer ready for TV writers’ return

By Kevin Wilson

Over the last few months, I thought nothing could be more boring than what the writers’ strike had done — old episodes of “The Daily Show With Jon Stewart,” covering weeks-old news.

I found out Monday night I was wrong. I was more bored by new episodes of “The Daily Show With Jon Stewart,” but without the writers that make it one of the funniest, sobering (and trustworthy) news program on the air.

Monday night’s “Daily Show” episode, the first to be broadcast since the Writer’s Guild of America strike started Nov. 5, was dedicated to the ongoing battle over who gets what profits from DVD and online video distribution profits.

The studios have a simple argument. Any contract they strike with writers guilds are for three years, and both the online video distribution and DVD markets are a little too mired to tell just how well new formats will profit.

It’s a good argument to make, in my mind. Consider the DVD market, which currently has three formats of DVD — standard, HD-DVD and Blu-Ray. The latter two are high-definition formats, and studios are still picking sides. But analysts say there’s not enough of a difference between standard and high definition for most movie enthusiasts to replace an entire DVD collection as they did with videocassettes over the last decade.

Also consider online media, which a) changes exponentially and b) always creates a risk for disappearing capital. To answer point A, who heard of YouTube when it was created about three years ago? To answer point B, always remember Mark Cuban became a billionaire during the dot.com boon, selling broadcast.com to Yahoo for about $6 billion. No studio wants to regret making a bad choice that either bankrupts their writers or gives them an inordinate amount of profits.

But it’s hard to argue with writers, because they know how to make counter arguments. Consider the writers from “The Daily Show,” who have so far used parent company Viacom’s words and actions against them.

The writers argued in a video on YouTube that Viacom has said it’s too soon to put a dollar value on online video. Then they countered with Viacom’s own action — suing YouTube for $1 billion for alleged copyright violations. Viacom, the writers argue, effectively created a dollar amount in their suit against YouTube.

Or they bring out an interview with Viacom CEO Phillippe Dauman, who predicted in August that Viacom would exceed $500 million in digital revenue (ads, iTunes downloads). Writers are striking because they don’t see a cent from the half billion their content brought to the company.

The writers have convinced me, not just with how they trapped Viacom, but with how terrible television is without them. I still remember the 2001 Hollywood writers’ strike, and how it resulted in movies like “Crocodile Dundee in Los Angeles.” The television writers’ strike has already led to the cancellation of the Golden Globe Awards, and it helped facilitate NBC bringing “American Gladiators” back as a series.

I’m going to bring an end to this writers’ strike the only way I know how — by watching shows that have reached settlements with their writers (David Letterman) and ignoring those that haven’t. Join me, or subject yourself to game shows hosted by Jeff Foxworthy and Hulk Hogan. Your choice.

Kevin Wilson is a columnist for Freedom New Mexico. He can be contacted at 763-3431, or by e-mail:
kevin_wilson@link.freedom.com