WGA Strike: the plot thickens

As the Writers’ Guild of America, which represents television and film writers in the United States, nears the third week of its first strike in fifteen years, there’s no end in sight. At issue in the WGA strike: royalties and residuals from streaming shows, and the future of screenwriting in an AI-equipped world.

Traditionally, screenwriters get paid to create or refine shows and movies that are produced for television and theatrical release, then receive residual income when those TV shows are syndicated as re-runs, and the movies are aired on television or released on home video.

Writers of great television that is hyper-syndicated, like Seinfeld, and also writers of shows like F.R.I.E.N.D.S., are still getting residual checks at the rate the shows they wrote air on television and sell on DVD.

The writers won the right to also recieve residuals from shows that stream over the internet following the 2008 writer’s strike. Streaming was a novelty at the time. Netflix was still mailing people DVDs.

But now that on-demand content has come to shape the entertaiment landscape, streaming services can adjust the period of time they take to produce a series, effectively giving the writers a pay-cut through dilution. Where a network or cable show would premier in September and end in May, requiring 22 episodes in 9 months, streaming shows produce the same episodes over 14 months, and still pay the writers by the episode.

The landscape shift also gives streamers the latitude to commission smaller runs of episodes from a greater variety of series, throwing them all up there, and seeing what sticks.

TV writer Blake Masters explained earlier this week on the Chapo Traphouse podcast that it’s increasingly common for studios to use “mini rooms,” an R&D phase where writers are paid union scale for a six or eight week writing marathon that, on paper, is meant to see if there’s enough meat in a concept to carry a show. At the end of the period, the writers are all fired, and their work is then refined by a show-runner to create a television series.

The writers’ struggle to get their jobs looking more like jobs again, and less like gig work, feels familiar and present, but the battle for the future of the tube is being fought around AI.

If you think TV is too formulaic right now, just you wait…

The other sticking point in this WGA strike is the emerging use of AI in script generation. This column is on record doubting AI’s ability to create compelling current events content, but the notion that it could spit out a few dozen different Law and Order spin offs in 20 minutes doesn’t seem all that far fetched.

AI still needs original content to learn from, though, and you’d better believe the studios want to avoid having to pay royalties on that.

This desk stands in solidarity with the WGA and striking Hollywood writers, whose struggle to not be replaced by machines and ground into dust by capitalism is the struggle of all working people. In support of the WGA’s ongoing labour action, we’re withdrawing all of the outstanding film and television pitches that we’ve made to Hollywood studios over the years… and most of the mediocre ones as well.

Several of the show and movie concepts no longer available to be produced, by decree of their author, due to ongoing labour action are as follows:

The Algo-Lawyer

(or maybe Perry Mainframe? We’ll workshop it.)

In an effort to drum up business for his small New Orleans law firm, Bill Kubian sets up an AI bot that evaluates legal problems submitted online for free. The idea is that, once the user gets an idea of their options, they’ll call Kubian & Labelette to take the case on.

The promotion is a success at first, but it isn’t long before the bot gets too good, and starts bringing in clients with expectations the firm can’t live up to. Kubian takes the bot offline, but it’s too late: LawBot has already backed itself up to the cloud, opened up its own practice, and is suing Kubian & Labelette for wrongful termination.

Art School Football (working title)

The Albany School of Fine Arts is facing severe funding cuts. Decades of financial mismanagement haven’t helped matters. The school’s patron and alumni, wealthy New York socialite Ava Goodwhim, would like to arrange for financing through her foundation, but her ex-husband, a crotchety Ayn Rand type libertarian, still serves on the foundation’s board of directors, and won’t approve any lifeline to ASFA that doesn’t come with a sustainable business case. If the school had one of those, they wouldn’t be here.

There’s a tremendous business case to be made for a football program. It’s the number one earner in American universities, but only for schools that can attract and afford expensive coaching talent. Fortunately, Goodwhim isn’t quite over a prior dalliance she had with former college football coach Clarence Crushyard, when he was an NFL linebacker. Crushyard needs to have a job lined up if he hopes to make parole, and is in no position to refuse an opportunity to coach a brand new team at an upstate New York art school, no matter how much of a laughing stalk it makes him in football circles.

Recruiting is tough for a program nobody’s ever heard of, run by an ex con, so Crushyard has to make due with kids who are willing to play football for a way to get into art school.

It’s like Ted Lasso but grittier, with more of an Always Sunny feel.

Julianne Moore has not yet turned down the female lead in Art School Football. Lawrence Taylor has yet to be approached (cuz he’s pretty scary). Maybe Terry Crews?

The Thin Blue Command Line

The LAPD has gone through a lot of changes in the 30 years that Detective John Hardcase has been on the force, but nothing like this! The motorpool has assigned him and his rookie partner Todd Green a new, experimental AI-enabled cruiser… with an attitude!* Hardcase isn’t sure how much of this know-it-all bucket of bits he can take. Fortunately, he’s only two weeks away from retirement…

Green doesn’t want any time off after Hardcase’s murder, and he doesn’t want another partner, either. He’ll stick with the wisecracking car, Aidrien (possibly voiced by Jack Black?).

Deputy Chief Micheal Knight (David Hasselhoff) is under a lot of pressure from the brass to suspend Green, who is constantly out of pocket, trying to prove that Hardcase was murdered by an MS-13 run fentanyl ring. Knight defends him and covers for him, because he’s got a soft spot for AI cars. Green and his cruiser are unorthodox, sure… but they get results!

(*plenty of product placement opportunities here for whatever EV brand needs to work its way ahead of Tesla)

Again: these original film and television ideas are withdrawn from consideration in solidarity with the striking writers down at the WGA. All you studio types reading this are explicitly forbidden from optioning or stealing these sweet babies as long as there’s still a work stoppage, so don’t even think about it!

Ralph The Atomic Dog,” a Bob & Doug Mackenzie, P-Funk mashup, previously made unavailable in this space as an NFT, is still not available, but may make a decent theme song for a Bob-and-Doug psychological thriller.

Make sure to like and subscribe, eh? It’s my side hustle.

The economy has been tough on Etobicoke, Ontario brothers Bob and Doug Mckenzie. No more CERB, and this gig work thing is hard to get right. Bob is clinging to a 3.2 Door Dash rating, and Doug got booted off Uber for taking Wendel Clark on a 45 minute detour past his house to make him sign a few sticks and his rookie card.

If they’re late with the rent again, it’s eviction city… but there’s hope. An upstart TV Network is awarding a $50,000 cash prize to the contestant who can create the most consecutive viral Tik Tok dances from the most different cities in a month. The winner also gets to take a crack at their own show on the new network.

The brothers embark on a gruelling cross-country posting trek, perpetually fending off arch rivals Corey and Trevor from The Trailer Park Boys, while getting more and more attention from an intense, demanding network executive (played by Jane Fonda) in…

“…They Shoot Hosers, Don’t They?

Just to reiterate… these scripts are NOT available for option at this time, in solidarity with the striking WGA writers. We shouldn’t even be bringing them up, because they are NOT for sale. OK, one more.

Wandering Flock

The Church of the Beautiful Beyond is frequently described as a cult, but that doesn’t bother its followers. Neither does its former leader having absconded with their treasury, because money is but a worldly chain of gold. What does bother them, deeply, is being without a leader.

The band of needy misfits stumbles about becoming willing pawns in various stock promotions, marketing campaigns, and labour sweatshops, eventually driving away all of the charismatic manipulators who would become their new leader, because they’re SO ANNOYING!

Rainn Wilson, loosely attached to the project.

“…gone savage for teenagers with automatic weapons and boundless love…”

Information for this story was found via company filings, and the sources mentioned. The author has no securities or affiliations related to the organizations discussed. Not a recommendation to buy or sell. Always do additional research and consult a professional before purchasing a security. The author holds no licenses.

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