the pulse

Writers strike is history but fallout has just begun

Well, the writers strike is over, and all is swell in that dream factory we call Hollywood. Everybody's back to work, the sun is shining, the birds are singing — and even those perpetually grouchy scribes have a certain spring in their step. Why, just the other day, I saw one leap into the air and click his heels together before commenting on the good weather. If only.

The business may again be humming, but it would be naive to presume that all has returned to normal. The financial and psychological repercussions of the crippling, divisive three-month walkout linger in the air. If we could read the thought bubbles of those flashing smiles, giving handshakes and taking meetings, they might look something like this:

"Hey, that's not a bad idea. Now sit. Stay. Beg. Roll over. Play dead."

"Thanks for finally deigning to meet with me and hear my pitches, you self-important jerk."

"Wait, come back here, I'm not finished making you grovel."

"Just so this isn't a total waste of your time, shall I pick up your dry cleaning on the way home?"

The rancor and bitter feelings on both sides that infused this strike do not disappear overnight. That's particularly true given the ongoing fear of another labor stoppage stemming from the Screen Actors Guild's forthcoming contract negotiation.

"I still sense a lot of uncertainty in town," admits Alan Spencer, a longtime writer-producer whose mid-1980s ABC cult comedy "Sledge Hammer!" is generating interest from studios for a big-screen revival and who also is penning a horror-comedy graphic novel for Boom! Studios that he calls "autobiographical."

"It still doesn't at all feel like business as usual yet. Part of it is the sense that the studios are even more in the driver's seat than usual when dealing with writers because the strike created so much hardship," Spencer says. "It's totally a buyer's market, and the studios are taking full advantage of the fact there are fewer jobs and more of we writers having to compete for them."

This early post-strike period has turned into something of a mad scramble for a small-ish pool of potential jobs/assignments among a WGA rank-and-file in need of a paycheck or two to compensate for the dead period of November, December and January.

"As a result of that kind of desperation, I've seen what looks like some payback (from the studios)," Spencer believes. "There's a lot of making writers jump through a lot of hoops. It's a little like dangling the yarn in front of the cat."

The full fallout of the strike has yet to show itself and in fact probably won't really be known for months. But clearly, if punishment for having the temerity to stand up for fair compensation is part of the post-strike equation, it isn't going to serve anyone's best interests. Pettiness is something that rarely goes out of style in this industry, walking hand in hand as it does with power-mongering.

"What we need to take hold right now is an old-guard dynamic that speaks to the idea of favoring decency over nastiness," Spencer says. "You just have to hope that the fact that the writers earned real respect with their militant stance will ultimately make a difference in how we get treated over the long haul."

It all goes back to what we learned in kindergarten: Be nice, play fair, don't be a bully.
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