This LA Times article from Dec. 11th, titled "The Big Picture: In the strike, the studios are playing to win", is one of the best piece I've seen on the Hollywood writer's strike.
Particularly, because it outlines the longer-term chess game being played by both sides, and explaining why for now, the studios seem to be playing a much better opening game. Some excerpts on that to highlights the points:
"DESPITE what they say about global warming, it's going to be a long, cold winter for the writers of Hollywood. The studios pretty much made it official Friday, when they walked away from the negotiating table after giving the Writers Guild an abrupt "put up or shut up" ultimatum. Considering that the studios were asking the writers to give up much of their core Internet residuals proposal, there was little left to negotiate.
The studios' message was obvious: They're going to play hardball. Believing they have comparatively little to lose by letting the strike drag on, the studios will try to weaken the guild by letting writers spend Christmas out of work while studio operatives sow seeds of discord among the membership, hoping to persuade some high-profile writers to cross the line and go back to work."
It goes on to highlight the chess moves ahead:
"The studios' behavior appears shortsighted unless you look at the negotiations in a broader light. While attention is focused on the writers strike, a bigger confrontation looms down the road. No one expects that the studios will have much of a problem settling with the Directors Guild of America, whose contract is up June 30, 2008. But the Screen Actors Guild, whose contract is also up that day, is another matter.
The largest union, with 120,000 members, SAG also has a relatively new president, Alan Rosenberg, who came to power after promising a much more aggressive stance about new media revenues. For the first time, SAG also brought in an outsider, former NFL Players Assn. executive Doug Allen, to be its executive director, another sign that the guild is preparing for a hard-nosed negotiation."
The studios are also playing hardball on the PR front, as the article pointedly illustrates:
"...the studios last week hired Mark Fabiani and Chris Lehane, former aides and advisors to Bill Clinton and Al Gore with reputations for canny damage control and bare-knuckled attacks on political adversaries.
It is widely believed that the new consultants had a hand in a recent studio proposal designed to portray the studios as willing negotiators. Although it offered precious few concessions, it was labeled a "new economic partnership," which brings to mind the time the Bush administration described a pro-logging proposal as a "healthy forests initiative."
And it offers some advice to the writer's in the face of this strategy:
"For the writers, their best defense now is a good offense. As I've argued before, their future lies in becoming more entrepreneurial. This would also be good strategy for future strike negotiations. With the studios stuck churning out reality sludge, the barriers for entry for an outsider are lower than ever. What's to stop Google, Yahoo or Mark Cuban from striking a deal with a top TV show runner who has a proven ability to create characters and stories that would bring eyeballs to the Internet?"
From where I sit, the internet, though very important in the long-term, is still not robust enough an opportunity to offer meaningful, short-term income to the writer's through deals with various internet outlets. Although, as the article points out, it would be a good symbolic gesture.
For now the studios seem to have the tactical and strategic advantages in this chess game.
What we're seeing here is a long-term war being fought with many battles to come. In the meantime, as ordinary television viewers, we may all get a chance to finally make a dent in all the books we've been meaning to read.