Not one to care too much about Television, it's taken awhile to comment on the writer's guild strike, which is now in it's second month. But any strike that, in it's wake, brings about the reincarnation of American Gladiators, deserves a biting, and dare we say "muscular" discussion. It's as if the writer's have struck, and the viewers are the only one's who'll be receiving a sharp blow to the side of the head, and a drop in available brain cells as reality TV quickly depletes our reserve neurons. Networks are scampering about more nervous than five-year-olds on Christmas Eve, worried that all they will find the next morning is a lump of programming coal. But for the Execs, it's not about quality (it never has been) -- it's about creating a buzz, having new shows, and getting butts on the sofa, watching the shows and the ads that pay for them.
We could sit around and decry the lack of well-written programing in the 21st century, after some of the longest running and world renown shows have quietly slipped into every actor's dream-time afterlife: syndication. But the fact is, there are a few well-written, decently thought-provoking shows on television, scant and sparse as they may be. Writers of intelligent comedy and drama are often schooled in the literary, the historical, and most probably the theatrical. They, like journalists and speechwriters, cannot help but slip in the occasional nod to Shakespeare, world history, or well-reasoned take on a current event or political situation -- and other readers and like-minded writers thanks them for it by watching their shows and appreciate the twists and turns that are carefully, yet seemingly ever-so-effortlessly crafted. Sadly, some of the best shows are often the ones that are barely watched, have a cult following, end too soon, then end up raking in the DVD sales when the rest of the watching public catches on. The best that can be hoped from the strike is that bored television watchers will turn desperately to other shows (though they will be reruns as well) and find a new fountain of excellent programing flowing into their family rooms). The worst that can happen is that people will dully stare at the hideous reality television that was forced into creation by the mere fact that it takes little to no writing to produce them.
Late night shows are soon going to be back on the air, sans writers, and while this is a sad state of affairs, comedy writers for late night, similar to eating a huge late night snack, leave a horrible taste in your mouth, give you bad dreams, and make your stomach ache from the ill-advised choice you just made. They may be entertaining, but few would argue that the writing is stellar on late night.
The studios, unfortunately, can hold out for a while, whereas the writers, because of their bum deals, will be less likely to live off trust funds and nest eggs - there are some well-compensated writers out there, but there are also the struggling ones, and they are already feeling the pinch. And viewers, well, the ones who find themselves increasingly fed up are going to the Internet and the webisodes -- the very zygote of the strike in the first place. Television studios have never been on the cutting edge of allowing their writer's to express their creativity with abandon - it's always been carefully crafted, ratings enforced imagination. Just as the indie films industry has grown, and caught up some big names in the process, opening up the genre to the masses, and making it more common for people to seek out foreign and small-budget pictures on the big screen, maybe it's time for an "indie pilot program" with low-budget, yet well-written shows scooping up the public acclaim. Wouldn't it be nice to dictate to Hollywood and networks what we'd actually like to watch, instead of watching what they think we'd like to watch, but really don't', but have to anyway because there's not much else to choose from?