Stuff To Read: My Email To The Office of The Writers Guild Of America East Supporting The Striking LO:CI Writers

Music To Get Psyched Up With ‘Let’s Turn It On’ by Freddie Mercury

Well the writers strike today in NYC picketed in front of Chelsea Piers, which is the home for the production offices for LO:CI, SVU and the mothership. Since I couldn’t just run up there and join the protests nor did I have time to send anything cool or useful to the strikers, I fired off this email to the WGA East. Hopefully it will encourage at least one writer or staffer to hang tough :)

To Whom It May Concern at the WGA East

I’m just one fan of a bunch of us out there in the big wide world of the work of the writers of Law & Order: Criminal Intent but since I know they will be striking later today at Chelsea Piers, I am hopeful that you’ll print out a copy of this email and pass it to the women and men of CI who will be walking the lines out in front of their production offices. I wish I lived closer as I’d be happy to walk the line with them or offer my support in any way possible, but since I live in the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia and just found out about the strike location a few hours ago, that isn’t going to happen. So this note will have to do.

Thanks very much

Go WGA Writers!

November 7, 2007

Dear CI Writers (and any other CI production-involved people below the line or above it who happen to picket or support the strike at Chelsea Piers on November 7, 2007)

This is just a note of encouragement and support from one of many of CI’s fans who has been suspicious and concerned for many months that the AMPTP wouldn’t negotiate in good faith with the WGA and that all you writers would end up on strike.

Last season’s renewal negotiations I know were tough on everyone. CI was dropped by NBC and moved to USA Network which in retrospect has been a blessing in disguise. I also know that many of the above the line types from Vincent Katie and Chris on down to those of you who are more behind the scenes but still above the line didn’t get much-deserved pay raises they earned. Worse I understand that the below the lines folks actually took pay *cuts* to keep CI in production.

It has been wonderful to see CI flourish at USA Network to the extent that CI is now the #1 scripted drama on basic cable. The ratings are so good that if you were on a broadcast network, you would be beating the network pinheads at NBC who didn’t have the sense to either keep the show or promote and schedule it wisely in the first place!

It has been gratifying to see more people discovering and enjoying CI either through the syndicated episodes airing on Fox, the reruns on Bravo, or of course the heavily promoted original episodes on USA. And that’s just in the United States…you would not believe how many fans you have around the world and how fast the word is getting out about how great CI is — I’ve waited six seasons to see this happen and I am so thrilled for you all!

So you can imagine how heart-wrenching it is for me to hear that you will be striking with only 11 episodes completed. I am disappointed that the seventh season of CI may only be half as long as the other six seasons of CI were. And this from a show that in it’s first year was delayed due to the cataclysmic events of 9/11, then aired irregularly thanks to NBC’s scheduling whims and the 2002 Winter Olympics.

Know this…a bunch of us ‘old-timer’ fans stuck by you then and we’re still sticking by you now. None of us has a serious enough case of the seven year itch that we’d easily stop watching CI.

In the grand scheme of things, losing a few TV episodes isn’t all that tragic for us fans. But I worry for those on the CI staff who don’t have a lot of financial options. Some of them may be writers, some of them may be crew or production office staff. But everyone is striking in what I am convinced is a worsening economy. I worry about people who make CI episodes not being able to make mortgage or car payments or pay medical bills, their kids who might not have much of a Christmas, or the debt some of you might have to go into if the strike goes long or unfortunate things happen. You are taking a big risk and I worry it might not go well for everyone.

That said, I think you really don’t have a choice in the matter. I have been reading Nikki Finke’s website and yesterday’s blog post

made me seeth with anger.

Lawyers like me have a word to describe the nature of the dealings between the WGA and the AMPTP: unconscionable. Bad faith doesn’t even begin to describe the way they’re negotiating even if only half of what Nikki Finke reported is true.

I also understand that someone has to set the precedent and take the AMPTP members out behind the woodshed in these negotiations to show them that the creatives in show business really do matter. In my few instances of representing music artists in contract negotiations with the music divisions of the same unconscionable corporations (they offer the same crappy contract provisions to bands and singers and musicians, only the faces you deal with are different), I found that at some point you just had to say no to the powers that be. They will overreach in every way possible and try to get as superior a position relative to you as they think they can get away with without making you walk away. So the WGA has called their bluff…the AMPTP can and must do better. Indentured servitude hasn’t been the law of the land since the Civil War.

What I am hoping will happen will be that the folks in the AMPTP will be wiser than the folks in the music divisions in the same companies and realize that the ignorance of a lot of bands singers and musicians won’t be repeated in these ‘new and future media’ clause negotiations. The stunts pulled then are well-known now in the entertainment law community and they won’t work. Trying to swindle the most literate and intellectually curious artists is always a dumb idea and is doomed to fail.

Moreover if the WGA fails, it will make it just that much harder for SAG, AFTRA, & DGA members in the near future to try and win some paltry share of the enormous revenue these companies generate from all your labors. And then you have to think of the non-union members of CI’s production team…if all of you successful above the line types can’t get an additional sliver of the revenue pie, what will happen to lowly production assistants and mail room types who don’t have the strength to even form a union? So you must negotiate not only for yourselves but for everyone on the CI team.

So as you are out there pounding the pavement for what seems like paltry pennies today, know that you do have some power and leverage and you would be foolish not to use it. The other side clearly can be defeated if the world knows just how grasping and greedily the AMPTP members are behaving.

Please be assured that the word is getting out about how the AMPTP isn’t negotiating in good faith. All you writers need to do is refuse to accept any contract provisions that are unfair, to let others know how AMPTP members are behaving and to resolve to not agree to anything but that which is reasonable. If we CI fans can be of any assistance in reaching your goals, do not hesitate to contact us…we would be pleased and honored to help you all as you need it. It’s the least we can do.

You should also know that CI fans are reaching out to other shows’s fans and we too are organizing online to support you and to resist the propaganda that ridiculously tries to pin the sins of the AMPTP on the WGA. While few fans are highly educated or wealthy, they have enough experience and instincts to spot when someone slick and rich is trying to hustle them.

Here are some places you can go online for information and support from the masses:

The CI Writers Strike Thread at the USA Network CI Fan Forum (yes we’re wasting the network’s bandwidth coming up with ways to help you counter their greed and stupidity)

Fans For The WGA CI Forum

WGA_Supporters LiveJournal Community (it’s a multi-authored blog representing many fandoms)

Fans4Writers (started by Joss Whedon’s fans but soon to be populated by other fandoms)

Fans For The WGA (which covers 19 different TV show fandoms at this writing)

There will be other sites added (I am planning some blog posts to my own blog and I am sure that other CI, Vincent D’Onofrio. Kathryn Erbe, Chris Noth and Law & Order and Homicide: Life On The Street related groups will be joining up to support you soon)

I’ve also already picked out a red fleece pullover to wear today and will be following up on this story like white on rice.

Good luck to you with your picketing and take heart in the knowledge that you are gaining momentum out there amongst rank and file TV fans. CI fans and others are behind you and doing whatever we can think of to ensure you succeed!

With heartfelt gratitude for everyone who works on CI and for every TV show writer and screenwriter.

Stuff To Read: Why I’m Finally Going To Say Something Nice About Warren Leight

Music ‘One Day At A Time’ by The Knack

I know I bag on Warren Leight and the current crop of LO:CI writers pretty savagely and constantly lament the departure of Rene Balcer and his writing staff from LO:CI as a major turning point in the quality of my beloved show.

But I’ve got to hand it to Warren for really respecting the picket line and the WGA strike (even though it looks like once we hit the 11th episode of LO:CI this season a whole bunch of us are going to be jonesing for new Goren or Logan episodes).

As an intellectual property attorney who has seen the evil a ‘current or future media’ clause can visit upon an artist (this overreaching clause came from the music divisions of entertainment conglomerates and I saw more than a few artists suffer from not grasping its implications to their bottom lines), I say to the writers at LO:CI for goodness sake, strike hard against perpetual indentured servitude the MegaMediaCorporations(TM) Inc. want to imprison you in and all y’all deserve some revenue from the Internet downloading, the cell phone downloading as well as more than a pathetic four cents per DVD.

For the fans who are going to be going into withdrawal well may I remind them that back in 2001 the first season of LO:CI was delayed due to 9/11 and then all through the winter of 2002 we had to wait many many weeks to see new LO:CI episodes because of the nuisance of preemption by the 2002 Winter Olympics? Thanks to FOX syndication reruns, Bravo reruns, the first 3 seasons of LO:CI on DVD, Amazon downloads, plus whatever marathons USA Network chooses to run etc, well you won’t have to suffer as much as we dinosaur days fans did. You’ll live…trust me. Just take the hiatus one day at a time

Oh and huge kudos are going out to the LA Times for their WGA strike coverage and this article.

Warren Leight is grappling with his dual roles on LO:CI

“Grappling with his dual roles”
— Matea Gold LA Times Blog

“Warren Leight, executive producer and showrunner of USA’s “Law & Order: Criminal Intent,” was wrestling with an issue facing many of his fellow showrunners on the picket line: how to juggle his competing duties as a writer and producer.

Last night, he finished one last tweak on the 10th episode of “Criminal Intent” and faxed it in right before the strike deadline. The script for Episode 11 is also done and will probably go into production before Thanksgiving. Though Leight won’t write another word until the strike is over, he may get called on for his input on editing and other responsibilities he has as a showrunner.

“I’m trying to figure it out,” said Leight, who says he won’t cross the picket line. “I think that’s a hugely complicated issue. I have to play every situation by ear. A lot of showrunners are grappling with that.”

Leight feels strongly that the writers were forced to strike. “They made us an offer we had to refuse,” he said of the studios. “My sense is they wanted it to come to this.

“In a sense, they managed to do the impossible: They brought writers together,” he added. “Look, it’s an ornery group. But we know what the stakes are. There’s remarkable unity between the guilds on both coasts, which has never been the case, and across different echelons of the guild. It’s unfortunate it’s come to this, but they’ve managed to create more unity in the writers guild than we’ve been able to do on our own in 30 years.”

Unlike the 1988 strike, this stoppage comes down to one clear issue for most writers, Leight said: “They know if they don’t stand up now out here, there will be no residuals in five to 10 years. It’s a one-issue strike.” ”

I don’t know how else I can support the striking writers except to say so right here on The Vault’s homepage and to maybe go rewatch VDO’s rants as the writer David Kahane in ‘The Player’ for inspiration (and ignoring the conclusion of the film). In real life the weasels of MegaMediaCorporations(TM) Inc. don’t always have to win.

If somebody wants to hook me up with a WGA T-shirt or a strike sign I’d happily accept them :)