With most striking TV and film writers nearly 3,000 miles away from
Philadelphia, you would think that the writer strike wouldn't have much
affect on the city that brought you Edgar Allen Poe and Ernie Kovacs.
After all, they're all either dead or stuck in someone's attic trunk.
For the time being, we can depend on the Philadelphia Eagles
for fresh improvised comedy - dark, very dark, comedy - every week.
But as a WGA member, recently relocated to the City of Brotherly Love,
the strike is terribly meaningful to me and most other guild members
residing in the area. Oh, sure, I told everyone that the strike is
killing me and that I
moved back to the Philly homeland because the Internet afforded me access
to my craft while allowing me to afford more than a one bedroom condo for
under two million. And of course, there's the kids. I wanted my precious
12 and 14 year olds to be able to grow up normally, outside the fast life
of oneupmanship ego. And you can get tired of the wild Hollywood
parties, none of which I was ever invited to.
But, truth be known, at their age and in a youth-obsessed industry, my
kids are more competition than they are adorable. The actual reason for
moving back is that the odds against a professional television writer
writing professionally are longer than most series last.
Sure I wrote on highly successful series like "Maybe This Time," Marie
Osmond's series that lasted nearly a whole three months before
cancellation (before she discovered that she was better at passing out
than acting) and the new "Family Affair," that was far less fortunate
than MTT. But the odds of getting hired on most TV gigs (WGA membership
allows you use the word "gig" during the strike) get longer the shorter
the distance between you and forty. And when you pass forty, as we all
know, the brain dies. Or so the network executive who used to play
with my kids told me. They call it youthenasia. The fear that you'll get
old before you die.
Oh, you can try and fake 'em out and hide the aging process. I would
never pitch an idea unless I was lying on the floor so that the loose
skin on the front of my face would fall to the back of my head. But as l
ong as younger people continue to be born and invade the writing world we
are all faced with the inevitable. Unless, of course, we kill them
first. But that would be unseemly and should be used as only a last
But this is why the strike itself is good, especially to those of us in
who have passed the forty-year-old-good-as-dead age with little chance of
being hired for a TV gig, except if Mike Douglas ever comes back. Really
A strike has given most writers a wonderful rationale for unemployment.
"Damn this damned strike. Now how do I feed my kids?"
Second, we get to sound like a radical, the dream of every writer. I
haven't felt radical since the late '60s peace marches ... er, um ...
which my parents told me about, because I'm really very much under 40 and
still capable of coming up with a youthful and hep-to-the-jive concept.
Third, and most important, it gives us a cool explanation for why we
never get any work. Do you know how valuable that is to a writer? Do you
know what it's like to have your 80-year-old mother (she had me when she
was around 55) asking every other day, "How are you making it?" "Have you
heard anything from that Spielberg boy yet?" "Why don't you become an
exotic dancer like your sister? She makes good money." Sorry, been there.
"I wanted to be a writer and, dammit, Mother, a writer I am!" ... is what
I've thought of saying to her many times. And now, for the first time in
my career, I have the opportunity to answer my mother's questions with
more than just petty excuses. Now it's an excuse filled with honor and
passion. Cross the picket line? Over my dead script-writing program.
Fourth. A strike gives me something no strike settlement could
buy...pity. The plain, unadulterated sense of "There's nothing I can do
about it. They just won't let me write."
At last, I can hold my head high up high, carrying the "What about my
kids" strike sign? I can finally go back to my high school reunions and
explain, bitterly, passionately, proudly, that "I am a writer just like
Larry Gelbart and David Kelly, but they just won't let us work!" And
above all that, I no longer have to feel so pathetic when my sister mails
me her lapdance tips.
It's not too late to do something about it. I beseech my brethren and
sistren writers: Don't vote for a settlement, no matter how you think it
will employ your friend who might hire you. He's hasn't had a show in
five years and he's already relocated to Buck County.
It's time for every unemployed writer to run out into the street, puff
out your chest and let your voice be heard. "I'm mad as hell and I'm not
going to take this anymore!" Only you should change it enough so no one
will know you stole it from Paddy. Try, "I'm angry as all get out and,
damnit, I'm not going to accept this thing happening again!"
Yep. It's nice to be back. Now, let's see what hilarity ensues on this
week's Eagles' sitcom.