LOST executive producer and writer Damon Lindelof is one of those proclaiming the death of TV. He's also one of those writers out on strike against the networks and studios so he's clearly working to garner some attention for his cause as he penned the following piece for the LA Times.
Published: November 11, 2007
TELEVISION is dying.
I should have realized this four years ago when I first got my TiVo box, but denial is always the first stage of grief. I simply couldn’t acknowledge that this wonderful invention heralded the beginning of the end.
TiVo stores your favorite movies and shows on its hard drive, allowing you to pull up last night’s episode of “The Daily Show” as easily as you click open documents on your laptop. In fact, once you download the original broadcast — sorry, I meant to say “record” it — you can watch it at your leisure. The next morning. Next year. Your call. Because now? You own that episode.
Best of all, you got it free.
Television has always been free. Sure, if you want all the N.F.L. games in high definition, you have to pay the piper, but the broadcast networks still offer their entire schedules for absolutely nothing. The only catch, of course, is that you have to watch commercials. Economically, it’s a fair deal. The network pays for the shows, gives them to viewers, and makes its cash back through advertising. Which regrettably brings us to the most wonderful thing TiVo does: It enables you to ignore the commercials that keep the whole system running.
Twenty percent of American homes now contain hard drives that store movies and television shows indefinitely and allows you to fast-forward through commercials. These devices will probably proliferate at a significant rate and soon, almost everyone will have them. They’ll also get smaller and smaller, rendering the box that holds them obsolete, and the rectangular screen in your living room won’t really be a television anymore, it’ll be a computer. And running into the back of that computer, the wire that delivers unto you everything you watch? It won’t be cable; it will be the Internet.
This probably sounds exciting if you’re a TV viewer, but if you’re in the business of producing these shows, it’s nothing short of terrifying. This is how vaudevillians must have felt the first time they saw a silent movie; sitting there, suddenly realizing they just became extinct: after all, who wants another soft-shoe number when you can see Harold Lloyd hanging off a clock 50 feet tall?
Change always provokes fear, but I’d once believed that the death of our beloved television would unify all those affected, talent and studios, creators and suits. We’re all afraid and we’d all be afraid together. Instead we find ourselves so deeply divided.
The Writers Guild of America (of which I am a proud member) has gone on strike. I have spent the past week on the picket line outside Walt Disney Studios, my employer, chanting slogans and trudging slowly across the crosswalk.
The motivation for this drastic action — and a strike is drastic, a fact I grow more aware of every passing day — is the guild’s desire for a portion of revenues derived from the Internet. This is nothing new: for more than 50 years, writers have been entitled to a small cut of the studios’ profits from the reuse of our shows or movies; whenever something we created ends up in syndication or is sold on DVD, we receive royalties. But the studios refuse to apply the same rules to the Internet.
My show, “Lost,” has been streamed hundreds of millions of times since it was made available on ABC’s Web site. The downloads require the viewer to first watch an advertisement, from which the network obviously generates some income. The writers of the episodes get nothing. We’re also a hit on iTunes (where shows are sold for $1.99 each). Again, we get nothing.
If this strike lasts longer than three months, an entire season of television will end this December. No dramas. No comedies. No “Daily Show.” The strike will also prevent any pilots from being shot in the spring, so even if the strike is settled by then, you won’t see any new shows until the following January. As in 2009. Both the guild and the studios we are negotiating with do agree on one thing: this situation would be brutal.
I will probably be dragged through the streets and burned in effigy if fans have to wait another year for “Lost” to come back. And who could blame them? Public sentiment may have swung toward the guild for now, but once the viewing audience has spent a month or so subsisting on “America’s Next Hottest Cop” and “Celebrity Eating Contest,” I have little doubt that the tide will turn against us. Which brings me to the second stage of grief: anger.
I am angry because I am accused of being greedy by studios that are being greedy. I am angry because my greed is fair and reasonable: if money is made off of my product through the Internet, then I am entitled to a small piece. The studios’ greed, on the other hand, is hidden behind cynical, disingenuous claims that they make nothing on the Web — that the streaming and downloading of our shows is purely “promotional.” Seriously?
Most of all, I’m angry that I’m not working. Not working means not getting paid. My weekly salary is considerably more than the small percentage of Internet gains we are hoping to make in this negotiation and if I’m on the picket line for just three months, I will never recoup those losses, no matter what deal gets made.
But I am willing to hold firm for considerably longer than three months because this is a fight for the livelihoods of a future generation of writers, whose work will never “air,” but instead be streamed, beamed or zapped onto a tiny chip.
Things have gotten ugly and the lines of communication have broken down completely between the guild and the studios. Perhaps it’s not too late, though, for both sides to rally around the one thing we still have in common: our mourning for the way things used to be. Instead of fighting each other, maybe we should be throwing a wake for our beloved TV.
Because the third stage of grief is bargaining.
And bargain we must, because when television finally passes on, there will still be entertainment; there will still be shows and films and videos, right there on a screen in your living room. And just as the owners of vaudeville theaters broke down and bought hand-crank movie cameras, the studios will figure out a way to make absurd amounts of money off of whatever is beaming onto whichever sort of screen.
And we’ll still be writing every word.