Writer and former KCRW contributor Rob Long joined The Business in September 2019, taking a contrarian position on the WGA battle. He had fired his agent, but did so reluctantly. And he was the only person we could find who was willing to talk on our air about a dissenting opinion.
In the aftermath of the Guild victory, Long is back. Here are his thoughts — written in his own words.
The last time I was on The Business, it was to dissent from the then-embroiling Writers Guild initiative to force talent agencies to stop the practice of packaging television shows. Additionally, the Writers Guild was trying to stop the agencies from owning and managing their own production entities. The idea was a talent agent should represent the client, first and foremost, not a project.
So what I said, basically, was that this wouldn’t work and it’s the wrong thing to fight.
I was wrong — I mean really wrong — about the first thing. It did in fact work. CAA and WME, after a years-long brutal standoff, caved and gave in to the demands of the Writers Guild.
But I’m not so sure I was wrong about the second part. I’m a writer in my 50’s — I’ve been working since 1990. I’ve had good deals and bad deals, and as a showrunner I’ve made more deals with writers than I’ve ever had made for me, so I’m familiar with the ways these things get worked out. What I resented at the time and what I still kinda resent is the way the guild leadership decided for me what kind of representation I’m allowed to have. I mean I’m just too old to be infantilized like that.
To be honest, I have been the beneficiary of the packaging process. It’s essentially how I got into the business, and it’s been the heart of a couple of projects I’ve worked on, including some of the more recent ones. So I’ve got no beef with packaging. I mean I’m not crazy about non-writing producers eating up my writing budget, or long-term holds put on writers and projects, or the prevalence of mini-rooms taking writers off the market for months and months without paying them for their time. I’m against all of those things.
But those are issues that writers will face in the next few years. Those are the things that will keep people from making a living here, from building a career, from being able to wait out a couple of years as they write their passion project. The way the business is going — and I’m lucky to be old, to have started in 1990 when this kind of thing was inconceivable — there will be a handful of big showrunners and a lot of gig writers. Spoiler alert: the showrunners will do fine. The gig writers are going to struggle.
And fixing those things is going to take muscle, and a fight, and, crucially, allies. The agencies used to be quasi allies in fights like this. So it’s a bad strategy, in my opinion, to prepare for a war by, first, shooting your friends.
Now I could be wrong about that. I was wrong to think the Writers Guild leadership would fail at getting the agencies to surrender, but in my other life I’m an entrepreneur and sometime investor, and I know that it’s smart to give people on your side, even if they’re agents, even if they’re on their own side first, an incentive to work with you.
What writers need for the future is more choices, more flexibility, more ways to get paid to tell their stories. For instance, I don’t do Martini Shot for KCRW anymore — which is great, really, I did them for 16 years, it’s time for someone else, time for something new. But now I do them myself, and you can hear them on Apple Podcasts or Stitcher or martinishotpodcast.com.
Choice and flexibility, that’s the way it’s going, and we may as well figure out a way to make that work for us.