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FROM THIS EPISODE

This is Rob Long with Martini Shot on KCRW.

The letter from the studio came yesterday. It said this:

Reference is made to the Agreement –- and then, in parentheses, they put the word "Agreement" in quotation mark, for some reason -– between you on the one hand and us on the other hand, in which you agreed to render specified services and for which you are being paid. Blah blah blah. Boilerplate, boilerplate, boilerplate. And then:

As you know, the WGA has called a strike which is severely impacting the studio's development and production activities, and which constitutes an event of force majeure and/or disability under the terms of the agreement. We regret to inform you that the Agreement – this time capitalized, no parenthesis, no quotation marks, no idea what – is automatically suspended as of November 5, 2007 and no compensation will accrue or be payable to you during any such period of suspension except as specified in the Agreement. Blah blah blah. Boilerplate boilerplate. And then it wraps up with: We are hopeful for a speedy resolution of the labor dispute.

And it seems to me that this, finally, is a really perfect spot – maybe the only perfect spot – for one of those smiley faces people put in emails – you know, the colon-closed-parenthesis thing? What do they call that? An emoticon! That's what we need right now. Dear Rob: You're striking. That's a force majeure. Frowny face. Let's hope this ends soon. Happy face.

In fact, it seems to me that a judicious use of emoticons might have prevented things from getting so dire. Imagine if each swipe between the producers and the writers had been clarified by a little winky think, or a smiley thing, or whatever creative symbols people have figured out. You guys are greedy pigs, you're lying to us, you're stealing from us. Wink. You writers are paranoid fanatasists, have already been paid plenty, and are shutting the town down with your unrealistic demands. Shrug.

Right now, the strike is about DVD and on-line, web-based residuals. But it's also about decorum and politeness, about a group of people – the writers – who are capable of doing immense economic damage to this town and the way it does business, and to themselves, but they're okay with that – when they feel like they're being dissed, lied to, tricked. So here's how to solve this thing. I'll wait, in case you want to get a pencil.

The writers give up on the DVD residual demand. They were about to do it anyway, so they can do it again. DVD's are going to die soon, anyway, and be replaced by web distribution.

The studios come up with a revenue-sharing scheme for streaming video on the web. This should be easy, and, actually, cheap to do because the dirty little secret of web advertising is that it's not very lucrative.

The two of them agree to form an interesting panel of independent advisors –- get somebody from a powerhouse law firm that specializes in intellectual property and copyright, get somebody from Allen & Co, get somebody from UCLA, get somebody from Silicon Valley, you know, round them up.

And have them come up with a few workable proposals to do what we all know in our hearts we're going to have to do anyway. Come up with a system to replace this system. Come up with a way to pay writers a fair share for the reuse of their material, allow companies to distribute that material in whatever new platforms come along – and, you know, they're going to come along a lot faster than we think –- and come up with a system –- and this is crucial -– that allows writers some form of choice in how they're going to get paid. Choice is key.

And finally, the studios are going to have to do one other thing, one last thing, one thing, frankly, that they should have done before negotiations ever started. They're going to have to fire Nick Counter, the guy who's been running their side of the negotiations. They're going to have to toss him overboard, publicly, like, well, like they've all been tossed over themselves, at some point or other, from some studio perch or other. The writers will love it – they're an emotional bunch, and they won't look too closely at the deal. Sort of like the big satisfying finish to the movie. It feels great. Doesn't make much sense. But feels great.

The studios should just send Nick Counter a letter. Reference is hereby made to the agreement between you on the one hand…well, I'm sure they know how to put it. Just don't forget the smiley face.

That's it for this week. Next week, scab labor. For KCRW, this is Rob Long with Martini Shot.


Photo: Darren Levene

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