Writers strike gives insight into industry

Television viewers can brush the cobwebs off their TV sets and anticipate new episodes of hit shows after a three-month hiatus.

As the Writers Guild of America members put down their picket signs this week and returned to work, students in the radio-TV-film department may be experiencing more than excitement awaiting new scripts for shows. They also may gain a greater understand of how the industry is tied together, said Richard Allen, chair of the radio-TV-film department.

“The strike has worked into our program as an educational tool,” Allen said. “What makes it relevant to any class is to understand how interrelated everything is.”

Allen, who was asked to speak to classes about his experience as a writer and former WGA member, said the strike existed because a large portion of money is being made on alternate forms of delivery, such as Internet TV episodes, which didn’t exist before the previous contract was drawn up for writers. He said these are important things for students to know.

“Students must be aware of the technological, business and artistic sides of the media when entering the industry,” he said.

The strike exemplifies that things are no longer black and white – students need to be able to tell the difference between good and bad contracts, Allen said. They also need to understand they will be expected to be familiar with the inner-workings of the entertainment industry once they graduate, he said.

Megan Martin, a sophomore radio-TV-film major, said her professors told students the writers strike is an example of a situation they could experience in their own careers. They must remain informed of changes in entertainment, primarily regarding the technological aspects of new media such as DVDs and the Internet, she said.

Allen said writers strikes aren’t like baseball strikes.

“Players can start playing again and people are immediately interested,” he said. “But with this situation, it’s more difficult to keep interest when TV shows are off the air.”

He said it has made people take a step back and consider the situation, which brings awareness to students about learning their rights in the industry. Students should learn to never be at a disadvantage by not being up-to-date within their careers when facing a similar situation, he said.

The amount of money networks have lost because of the strike is not precisely known, but Allen estimates it to be more than $10 million. He said the amount of money lost, along with the approaching date of the Oscars, has persuaded producers to want to end the strike.

“No one wants to be accused of having the Oscars canceled because of an unresolved strike,” he said.

With all lessons aside, students will soon be able to enjoy viewing parties for shows such as “Law & Order SVU” or “Desperate Housewives” once again.

“It has hurt TV a lot,” said junior radio-TV-film major Jason Knutzen. “They have had to go to plan B for shows. That’s why we’ve seen the bad reality TV or that one caveman show. I look forward to having good ones back.”