tv reporter

Writers and producers need to grin and bear it

It should feel like a natural extension of the Thanksgiving weekend for WGA toppers and studio executives when they resume negotiations today.

Theirs is a classic image of a Thanksgiving gathering — a dysfunctional family sitting together around the table, pretending to like one another. (The question is whether the studios will pass some new-media gravy to the writers or whether the meeting will be one big turkey.)

The dysfunctionality has been well proved by the 17 fruitless negotiating sessions before the strike. As for any affection, a lot of it has been lost amid the blame game and picket rhetoric of the past three weeks.

"There are a lot of decent people at every studio," "Family Guy" creator Seth MacFarlane said during his Nov. 9 speech at the WGA's big Fox rally. "I look forward to working with them again when this is all over and we're all awkwardly pretending like it didn't happen."

Some things and some words are hard to forget — like "The Shield" creator Shawn Ryan calling his employers "bastards" in an emotional e-mail circulated like a strike manifesto on Day 1 of the walkout. Or MacFarlane's use of male genitalia in reference to his studio's decision to complete episodes of his show without his blessing.

On the other side of the picket line, executives, mostly privately, refer to the writers as spoiled millionaires. Publicly, they poured oil onto the strike fire by boasting about big new-media revenue gains to investors during earnings calls in the first days of the walkout. That triggered some angry name-calling by the writers, who are striking for a piece of that same revenue the studios have dubbed nonexistent.

It has been a heated war of words, and as in every war, there has been collateral damage. I consider the love for my job a part of it.

It began on Day 1 of the strike, when bright and early I went to the picket line at Fox, eager to chronicle a once-in-a-career event and get a personal perspective from writers. Before I could even go meet the picketers, the strike captain, upon hearing of my affiliation, greeted me with, "We don't trust the trades, we don't want your coverage."

I can't speak for everyone in the trades, but I've always prided myself on being a writers' writer — giving them a voice, telling their stories. Writers always have been my heroes and are a big reason why I've stayed in this job for so long — because few places showcase the people behind the camera I've grown to love.

That's why seeing some TV writers I have known and admired for years lob insults against the paper that I represent has been so painful.

Yes, the attacks always are against the collective "trades," not against me, but I've been taking each one personally.

There is an old Bulgarian children's moral tale about a villager who insulted a bear. Then, the bear asked him to hit her with an ax. The villager resisted, but after a long persuasion, he did it. Years later, the two met again. There was barely a mark from the cut on the bear's back, but she still remembered what the villager had told her.

"Bad wound heals, bad word is never forgotten," she said.

All that has been said during the strike probably won't be forgotten soon, but negotiators on both sides should follow MacFarlane's advice and, pretending as best as they can that it never happened, sit down for a civilized post-Thanksgiving meeting today.

And here is hoping for a "lucky break" in their tug-of-war over the new-media wishbone so that the wishes of thousands out-of-work assistants and crew members to get their jobs back for Christmas come true.