Writer's Strike Would Present Right Opportunity

Posted: May 04, 2001 12:00 AM
As you may have heard, but cared very little about, there's a major battle taking place in Hollywood between the WGA, the Writer's Guild of America, and the AMPTP, which stands for the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers and not, as you might have assumed, the Asinine Moguls and Pretentiously Touchy Prima Donnas. A strike could be called any minute. The issues are pretty complicated. A lot of jargon gets thrown around about royalties, residuals, rights and other words that begin with "R," but they all mean the same thing: money. Writers want to be paid more, which is what all writers want, including me. I'm no fan of organized labor generally, but at least truck drivers and coal miners have a history of being exploited. The idea that a relatively small number of people who get paid thousands of dollars per word can't afford Italian marble in their beach house's maid's quarters does not make me want to break my pencil in solidarity. So, if the "crafting process" for "Weekend at Bernie's 9: The Corpse Finally Decomposes" is short-circuited, I will not weep. Aside from my obvious jealousy, another reason I hope the talks break down in irreparable rancor is that I want to be a scab. I want to be shipped to Hollywood to get paid hundreds of thousands of dollars as a replacement writer. Just imagine the excitement as my fellow scabs and I arrive by truck at the gates of the Paramount or Universal lot. Writers from "Friends" and "Touched by an Angel" would be gathered around screaming "traitor!" as they instructed their personal assistants to throw rocks at us. Perhaps one of the writers would even toss a double decaf mocha frappe at me. But money's not my main motive for wanting to be a scab. I think Hollywood could use someone like me. No, I don't mean overly ironic Jews from the Upper West Side of Manhattan. They've certainly got excess inventory in that department. What Hollywood needs are more realists. I'd say they need conservatives - which they do - but the fact is that most television, like most art, written with an obviously political intent is bad. And, besides, Hollywood doesn't hire conservatives. But they do hire realists from time to time, and in this case realism would do the job of conservatism. By necessity, movies and TV shows are a mix of fantasy and compromise. Writers need to make concessions to the demands of the audience, the producers, the sponsors, the medium and the political climate in Hollywood. For example, did you ever notice that on "Boston Public," the insufferably liberal and insipid show on Fox about a beantown public school, nobody has a chowderhead accent? And why don't any of the trial lawyers on "The Practice" ever take a meritless slip-and-fall case to pay for a new BMW? The result of these compromises is often more politically propagandistic than it would be if the writers simply sat down and took dictation from People for the American Way. For example, back when "Melrose Place" was still on the air, all the young pretty people acted as if "pass the salt" or "you have something stuck in your teeth" were pick up lines; they jumped into bed so fast you'd think they were trying to avoid a snake on the floor. Except, that is, for the gay guy. He always insisted that "he doesn't do that sort of thing" on the first date. One need not delve too deep into stereotypes to say that in the early 1990s this was hardly (ital) cinema verité. (end ital) A better example is Hollywood's portrayal of businessmen as murderers and environmental rapists. In 1981, a Media Institute study concluded that businessmen are regularly portrayed as "crooks, con men, and clowns"; it hasn't gotten any better 20 years later. Start counting the occupations of villains on TV and in the movies. Upwards of 90 percent of them are executives using their "legitimate" businesses as covers for crooked ventures. This is one of the best running jokes of the "Austin Powers" movies. Dr. Evil is constantly frustrated that his multinational corporation makes more money than he ever could through blackmail. I want to go write for "Boston Public." In my episode, the teachers wouldn't be yuppie goody-goody liberals determined to be the very best educators they can be. In my show, a well-meaning billionaire would do battle with chain-smoking career bureaucrats and politically-correct-yet-burned-out union hacks in an effort to give vouchers to a bunch of kids trapped in a crumbling inner-city hell hole. It'd make for good TV, and it'd be closer to reality, too.