By Marlena De Lacroix
I am 100% behind the Writers Guild and their strike. I come from a union family — my late grand-aunts spent just about every Sunday of the 1930s-60s freezing their tushs off in Union Square participating in rallies and demonstrations supporting organized labor, honoring the working man. Solidarity forever!
But I am conflicted, too. Moi supporting the same soap writers I’ve bashed for years? Well, supporting their right and need to strike doesn’t mean I endorse what they write. Most of their work in recent years has been really bad! But I believe all writers have the right to be paid for their work, and paid additionally if it appears somewhere other than the television screen – namely in the new media, which clearly is the future. Why should the networks get all that money? I believe in collective bargaining. I believe in unions!
Reed Saxon/Associated Press
That said, I have lots of questions about how the strike will affect daytime. But when I asked assorted friends in the industry, I found most of the answers were complex and/or puzzling. Some questions elicited no answer at all. Like, how will we viewers know for sure when the scab scripts start to air? Will the crawl accurately reflect who is really writing this stuff?
My old buddy Snark (http://www.snarkweighsin.blog-city.com), ever the shrewd observer, says he only knew during in the 1988 strike when the headwriter’s name was run alone, with no dialogue writers following. Does that mean the scabs are writing their episodes from the headwriter’s longterm? Or are the scabs entirely making up the scripts and the plots themselves?
And just who are the scabs who will be writing the shows, anyway, like so many evil, union-busting elves? Jill Farren Phelps’ nieces and nephews? Ron Carlivati’s bodyguard? Barbara Esensten’s hypnotist? Jim Reilly’s beloved Irish setters, typing out the dialog with their paws?
Just when I had a million more jokes about who the scabs are, I got an email from my friend Esther, who has worked on soaps and thus knows the grim truth about how sausages are made. She said I could not condemn the scabs wholesale because a lot of the writers who will be writing during the strike are just regular soap writers who got Hardship status in the strike in exchange for not being able to run in union elections or attend WGA film screenings (Marlena calls that a real hardship!). They have a special status called “Core.”
So, as a journalist, I am buckling down to write about the scab scripts whenever they appear, although as a union sympathizer I find the chore terribly distasteful. I’m expecting the worst. Oh gosh, these shows are going to be even more terrible than they have been, if that is possible. Mostly amateur Mr. or Ms. Scab X, who have little or no experience as soap writers, will soon be torturing us with characters who act out of character, pretzel-like plot twists and long, wordy speeches that are agony to the ear. Writer wannabes will “show what they can do” now that someone at the network has finally let them in through a mousehole. Solidarity forever, darlings!
Just at the moment when I was most depressed, I got an email from my friend and respected colleague, television journalist and longtime soap fan Ed Martin, whose Water Cooler TV column appears on http://www.jackmyers.com/commentary/ed-martin-watercooler. Every other month for years, in my favorite Gramercy Park coffee bar, Ed and I have been meeting over java and analyzing soaps.
Ed’s take: “Do you think the current GH episodes were written by scabs? I actually think the show has been more fun and better paced during the last two weeks than it has been in ages. I’m not saying the stories are great, only that the mechanics of the storytelling have improved.
“I also think Guiding Light is suddenly interesting again with its monster child. And As the World Turns has been good, too, with Dr. Bob’s stroke and Brad and Katie having sex.
“Is this all scab work? If so, it’s not half-bad.”
I emailed Ed back that I doubted the shows he enjoyed and wrote about had even begun to air scab scripts. Support scabs! Not Marlena, not now, not ever!
“What if you couldn’t do your job temporarily and your boss hired someone with no journalistic experience at all to write your column,” I asked. “And then some critic comes along and writes that the scab’s work is better than yours?”
Because darlings, soap writing isn’t American Idol! It’s learned through years of dramatic writing experience, and of course love for soaps. In my journalism professor’s opinion, writing is something that has be studied and practiced long and carefully. You’ve got to have done a lot of it before you deserve to get published or a script you have written deserves to go on the air.
But that’s moi, grand niece of the proletariat. For better of worse, scab scripts are coming and we’re all going to watch’em. I think they will be a disaster, while Ed thinks they may be better and perhaps already are than the soaps we regularly watch.
If you think you can spot them when the time comes, drop me a line and tell moi which of us you agree with.