The thing about writers is, they just can’t stop. Addictive personalities, one and all.
And TV writers are no different.
You’d think that, a month into the Writers Guild of America strike, they would be too busy, protesting and fretting over making the mortgage payment. You’d think that that dreaded affliction, “writer’s block,” would take hold and lead them straight from the picket line to the neighborhood watering hole.
Paid or gratis, these men and women just keep writing. On blogs. On YouTube. On newspaper op-ed pages. On MySpace and Facebook. And, yeah, on their own protest signs, with such creative slogans as: “Winter of our Dissed Content.” Yes, we know it’s resulted in loads of good PR for the writers, who resumed talks with producers Tuesday.
(Though, as striking writer John Ridley quipped last week on National Public Radio, “How hard is it to win a PR war against giant, soulless corporations? I think even Michael Vick could do that.”)
Besides, these writers have got wit. In spades. May as well use it.
Such wit may not be making a whit of difference at the bargaining table. But in the court of public opinion, it certainly helps the ink-stained wretches. A recent Pepperdine University survey found that 64 percent of people polled support the writers, 4 percent the producers.
(As the writing staff of “Late Show With David Letterman” states on its Web site, lateshowwritersonstrike.com: “We are not making light of this situation. One way to get people to pay attention to the strike and its issues is through humor.”)
The remaining 32 percent, perhaps, just want the two sides to quit bickering. However, if the strike is prolonged and new prime-time episodes run out, leading to a steady diet of reruns and reality shows, the majority may turn on the strikers.
Too soon to tell.
What we do know is that watching the strike videos, which are all over YouTube and other sharing sites, is the next best thing to watching TV. (Note: We’re still waiting for the producers to, er, produce some YouTube gems.)
Actually, some of the writers’ videos are funnier than stale late-night reruns.
Here’s a rundown:
“Not The Daily Show, With Some Writer”: The premise of this video is as comforting as it is familiar: “The Daily Show” writers put a card table on the picket line in New York and placed Jason Ross (one of the show’s 14 writers) behind it with what looks like a script. Hilarity ensues - for the most part.
It’s strange, hearing Jon Stewart’s intonation coming out of Ross’ mouth. Ross even feigns credulity, a la Stewart, when he speaks the corporate line and then is confronted with soundbites from corporate bosses who seemingly discredit it.
Ross: “Media conglomerates say it’s too soon to put a dollar value on Internet content.”
(A man holding a cue card whispers in Ross’ ear.)
Ross: “What’s that? Viacom is suing YouTube for a billion dollars for using its content online? ... I can’t believe it, unless there’s some `Daily Show’ montage.”
Then, a real clip is shown of Viacom chairman Sumner Redstone, crowing about how lucrative Viacom’s digital properties will be.
The topper: A cameo by “Daily Show” correspondent/actor John Oliver (you know, the British guy) as “Viacom President John J. Viacom Jr. III,” redolent in top hat, tails and spats.
The merely funny
“Videologblog: Writers Strike,” by writers of “The Colbert Report”: Here we get a faux smarmy studio mogul making a plea to the public about how the writers’ demands are unreasonable.
Some of the best lines:
“Writers control the media. It’s time our voices are heard.”
“Because of them, my son had to settle for a non-endangered birthday tiger.”
“It’s impossible to make money off the Internet. And, if you don’t believe me, Google it.”
“A World Without Writers”: A montage video showing how important screenwriters and punchy dialogue are to a movie. Iconic still pictures are flashed, followed by wordy, badly rewritten iconic lines.
Jack Nicholson in “A Few Good Men”: “The truth? You’d be extremely surprised if I told you the truth.”
Instead of the line “Badges, we don’t need no stinkin’ badges” from “Treasures of the Sierra Madre,” we get: “Unfortunately, I mislaid my official ID.”
Rhett Butler’s classic retort in “Gone With the Wind”: “Whatever, Scarlett.”
“Voices of Uncertainty”: This video, posted on the WGA-sponsored site www.unitedhollywood.com, uses clips from studio heads, such as Viacom’s Redstone, Fox’s Rupert Murdoch, NBC’s Jeff Silverman and CBS’ Les Moonves, bragging about the worth of their online ventures, then juxtaposes that with snarky graphics.
Example: After Redstone says “Viacom will double its revenues this year from digital,” these words flash on the screen: “Writers will also double their revenues from digital, from $0.00 to $0.00.”
“`The Office’ is Closed”: Writers and a few actors from NBC’s hit show “The Office” ad-lib on the picket line, lamenting their plight. The cinema verite routine is typical “Office” banter – pointed, yet somehow sweet.
At one point, a writer on a walkie-talkie laments: “I’d very badly like to punch up this routine, but I’m on strike. Over.”
The best conceit is when the writers ape the NBC/General Electric lawyers, who have called Webisodes of “The Office” “promotions” rather than “episodes.” They also lament how one of their online-only “Office” shows won a daytime Emmy award, but that NBC suits “wouldn’t pony up the 28 bucks” to pay for the statue.
The one-joke gems
“Hollywood Writers Strike - Day 72”: This one is a 30-second spot with five corporate suits around a table, trying to come up with movie ideas. “You have 15 minutes to wow me. Ideas?” Awkward silence, followed by stumbling and mumbling. Then it cuts to the intentionally grammatically incorrect graphic: “Hollywood Don’t Need Writers.”
The historical perspective
“Same Old Story”: The guild trotted out 93-year-old writer Irving Brecher, who penned “Meet Me in St. Louis” and many Marx Brothers pictures, to provide the long view about how he believes writers have been exploited.
“All we’d like is a little squirt of milk,” he says, voice shaking. “They won’t even give a drop.”
Bob Kushell, a writer for the sitcom “Samantha Who?,” enlists the show’s star, Christina Applegate, to portray his put-upon wife who really, really wants her writer hubby to get back to work.
The strangely appealing
“Speechless” with Sean Penn: An arty black-and-white close-up of actor Sean Penn, who speaks earnestly into the camera for 45 seconds. Only his mike is turned off, so we can’t hear him.
The silence speaks volumes.