The Writers Strike: An Inside Look
Although the Writers Union strike ended only last month, its consequences will effect television for time to come. Writer and producer for Saturday Night Live, Charlie Grandy, shares his experience at the picket lines.
the square: When did you first hear that the writers might go on strike?
Charlie Grandy: They've been talking about striking since I became a writer in 1998. Over the summer, however, it became pretty evident it was going to happen. In short, the writers believe they deserve a percentage of revenue generated by placing our shows online. The studios believe otherwise. When normal negotiations failed we had no choice but to strike.
square: How often did you participate in the picketing? What was the scene like at the lines?
CG: For the first month we were required to picket three times a week from 9-1 or 1-5. Then they knocked it down to twice a week from 10-2 in an effort to have larger showings at fewer locations.
The first couple of days on the line were a media circus; we were in a fish bowl. It sucked. Over time, however, the cameras went away, and it got REALLY cold, and a hardened solidarity formed among the writers making the otherwise unpleasant, tolerable. Imagine a 3 month freshman orientation, but instead of trust falls you yell “You get paid, we get paid” every day while walking in a circle. That's what it was like.
square: What was your worst moment while picketing?
CG: It wasn't the picketing. It was the constant stress of not knowing if I'd ever work again in television. And I am equipped to do nothing else. I don't want to say I now understand how the Samurai felt when Emperor Meiji abolished the Samurai class, but I did envision myself wandering aimlessly around the countryside looking for an honest man who needed some jokes written.
square: Did you ever doubt that you were doing the right thing by going on strike?
CG: Never. We needed to stake our claim on the Internet. As all media moves towards a single form of instant distribution we were in danger of getting cut out of our already meager share.
square: What else did you do to contribute to the strike?
CG: I tried to grow a strike beard but ended up growing a strike gut instead.
square: How did you feel when certain shows (like The Daily Show) came back on the air during the strike?
CG: At first I thought it was great that Letterman got to go back. But what happened is that it damaged the solidarity on the line. They had every right to go back – Letterman owns his show, thus allowing him to negotiate with the Guild directly – but it was still frustrating that they got to work and we didn't.
As for the other shows (Conan, Leno, TDS, Colbert), I was mad but I felt much worse for the writers who had to picket all day and then watch their bosses do their show without them. That's got to be awful. Fortunately, as comedy writers, we have the ability to spin ritual humiliation into cold hard cash.
square: Did you ever lose hope?
CG: Worse, I filled out an application to become an SAT tutor.
square: How did the strike affect your family?
CG: It was nice to be around a lot more. But, on the downside, I was around a lot more.
square: How did the final negotiation process go? What were the conditions on which you settled?
CG: The final negotiations happened very quickly. Official talks had broken off in November. In January there were whispers of unofficial backdoor negotiations going on. That's when I allowed myself to start feeling positive. All real business in Hollywood is done secretly. It adds to the drama.
I will not bore you with the specifics of the deal, but we kind of got what we wanted. Kind of.
square: Are you satisfied with the settlement?
CG: Kind of
square: How has this affected the production of SNL ? Will everything go back to normal?
CG: We're going to try and fit in as many shows as we can before the end of the season to make up for the 10-12 we lost. It will take the writers about a week to start resenting the new work schedule. Then we'll be back to normal.
square: Finally, was it worth it?
[Disclosure: The writer is a relation of Grandy, but the square does not believe this has influenced the interview.]