Friday, July 18, 2008

Trashing Heroes

In this tough market, you land a staff job on a new series. And not just any new series, but one with a great pedigree and a chance of being really good. Only there’s a catch.

The studio has decided that the show won’t be WGA, as almost all other animated TV shows have been for the last decade; rather, it’ll be IATSE, like most animated features. Apparently -- surprise! -- the new norm of perpetual confrontation is going to cut both ways, and you’ve suddenly found yourself in its crosshairs.

But you’re told by an executive who’s seemingly in a position to know (though not, it turns out, in a position to promise) that it’ll all work out, that the show will end up WGA.

And then you’re told that it won’t.

So you put your career and your livelihood on the line, you stand up with your co-workers, and together you refuse to work, the way Larry Wilmore did singlehandedly on THE PJS a decade ago, and the way the SIMPSONS and other FOX animation writers did the same once Wilmore opened the door.

Then you learn that those shows back then were different: they didn’t already have a contract with another union. Yours does. Your show can't be WGA.

But you hold out anyway, and the studio finally agrees to WGA equivalents on all fronts, not just for yourselves but for future writers on the show. It’s not the WGA coverage you’d wanted, but you decide it’s the closest you can possibly get -- and what’s more, the stand you’ve taken will discourage any studio from trying this kind of move in years to come. So you take the deal.

You are, by any reasonable standard, a hero.

But within 24 hours, comments on Nikki Finke’s blog are calling you a scab and a sell-out.


Because your own Guild threw you under the bus.

This is what your Guild said about you, officially: “We understand why they [took the deal] but wish they hadn’t. Had they stuck together we believe that they would have won WGA coverage for Sit Down, Shut Up! Two WGA members refused the deal, and we and their fellow writers applaud them.”

And here’s what “one WGA leader” said to Nikki Finke, apparently asking her not to use his name: "The siege ended with a bribe."

In other words, if you do something courageous and beneficial to writers, but not courageous enough and beneficial enough to fit what Patric Verrone thinks is best right now for the Guild, expect things to get ugly.

Even if you’ve previously fought successfully to get other shows covered, as some of these writers had. Even if you’re a founder of United Hollywood, as one of them was.

Because apparently now the spirit of perpetual confrontation won’t be limited to challenging the studios. Apparently our leaders are so confident in the fervor of their followers that they’re willing to turn sentiment against our own, secure in the knowledge that all they have to do is drop the right word, and loyalists all over town will begin to vilify you.

They'll let you stand as an example to others: walk the line we lay down, or else. And they'll do it because they know there are people out there ready, eager, to buy into it.

This is the New Fanaticism. And it’s appalling.