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Striking Writers Speak Out

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Sorry if this was already posted. I thought it was timely, with the rumors of a strike.


By Sheri Goldberg

If you are a frequent viewer of soap operas, you probably have noticed changes in recent weeks. Perhaps the characters talk and behave differently. Maybe the scenes are too long, or there is too much action and not enough dialogue, or vice versa. Those changes are a direct result of the Writers Guild of America (WGA) strike currently in its fourteenth week as we go to press.

Of the nine thousand members of WGA, only two hundred to three hundred write for daytime dramas, but they have been greatly affected by the walk out. Consider these facts. A normal television season for a regularly employed nighttime writer is twenty-two weeks or twenty-two hour-long or half-hour episodes. But a daytime writer completes about sixty-five episodes every three months or approximately two hundred and sixty shows a year. That is why the daytime writer has already lost one-quarter of his or her yearly income as a result of this strike.


Why, What and How Much?

Exactly why are the writers striking? Their three-year contracts with the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers (AMPTP) expired March 1, 1988. Although negotiations for a new contract began last December, by March 1, no agreement had been reached, so the membership voted to walk off their jobs, which they did on March 6, 1998. While the writers agree they must strike, many daytime writers felt it was a more convenient time for the nighttime writers, since all of the prime-time series are currently on hiatus and are not due to resume production until late summer. Unfortunately, soap operas must continue to be written, so - unlike nighttime writers - soap scribes found their jobs were immediately taken over by someone else.

One of the principal issues of the strike is in the area of the one-hour residuals. For many years, the WGA contract has provided modest fixed residuals (income) for domestic reruns of television programs. This fixed formula has certain advantages for the members: certainty and policeability. The producers are now demanding a new "percentage-of-cash-flow" formula for residuals for all one-hour network shows going into syndication. And the producers want to police their revenues and the writers' residuals by themselves. The producers formula - which the writers rejected - would cut writers' residuals in the one-hour area an average of 35 to 50 percent and up to 80 percent in some cases. And the cash-flow formula forces the WGA to rely on the producer's own reports of revenues received from licensing sales of one-hour programs into syndication.

The second area is foreign residuals. No changes have been made in that formula since 1970. Since then, income from overseas syndication has skyrocketed, but the producers have offered no increases.

Another area that affects all writers regards the writers' Minimum Basic Agreement (MBA). The producers offer remains below the inflation rate by at least 2.2 percent and the writers have rejected it.

Also, daytime writers are currently employed for thirteen-week cycles. The WGA has asked that the producers guarantee any writers who has been employed for four consecutive thirteen-week cycles a guarantee of at least twenty-six weeks. The producers rejected that action.

In addition, the WGA asked that daytime writers receive on-air credits and increased minimums for daytime writers. At present, some writers' wages are so low that even after thirteen weeks of employment, they do not qualify for the Guild's Health and Welfare Plan. The producers said no.

Whom Does It Affect?

The last prolonged strike of the WGA was in 1981 when the writers stayed off the job for three months. That strike cost the three major networks millions of dollars in lost advertising revenues, lost audiences and time. This time, it could cost more because the networks are weaker. With so much alternative programming on cable and pay stations, and soaring video rentals, the audiences may lose interest.

Five daytime writers and one writer/director shared their thoughts on the strike with Soap Opera Digest Their candid comments on the strike were both enlightening and frightening.

(I will post those in the first message for the thread)

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How Has the Strike Affected You?

Douglas Marland (head writer, AS THE WORLD TURNS): "I feel very cut off. Also, our staff has been together for three years, and we have formed a strong emotional bond. We care about the actors and their characters. It has caused me a great deal of pain and frustration to know this is out of my control. One of the most painful things for me was the introduction of a character that I created who came on during the strike. To not be a part of this new creation has been the worst part for me."

Did You Prepare for the Strike?

Megan McTavish (associate head writer, ALL MY CHILDREN): "We had an outline which we gave to our production team when we left them in March and we wrote about six or seven weeks ahead."

Elizabeth Harrower (co-head writer, YOUNG AND RESTLESS): "We were only eight weeks ahead and there are no long-term projections on Y&R like so many other soap operas. Our writers live in different parts of the US so it is difficult to prepare very far in advance. We did a lot of work on the telephone during conference calls.

Claire Labine (head writer, RYAN'S HOPE): Unfortunately, I was more organized than I have ever been in my entire daytime life. We had a long-term projection and a monthly projection worked out. And I had done it for me, not for them. I didn't think for a minute we were going to have a strike and I was so pleased with how ahead we were. We were basically covered up until September.

Gary Tomlin (script writer, SANTA BARBARA; director, ANOTHER WORLD): "Story-wise, I think the producers of both shows are sticking with the long term story material, but it will not last much longer and then they are going to be in big trouble."

Marland: "I had just turned in a six-month story projection; a step-by-step outline that took the story into the middle of June."

Who Do You Think is Writing the Shows?

Labine: "I hope these writers, whoever they are, are not members of the WGA. I find it profoundly immoral to take advantage of people who are out on a principle that means a lot to the community. On the other hand, if it is someone who doesn't intend to be a writer and it is their job to keep the show on the air, I can understand it. It is the producer's job to keep the show on the air."

Tomlin: "I can only assume that production people are doing the writers and maybe a guild member now and then because some days I will get a script (when I am directing AW) and it will be really good and then all of a sudden, one will come in that is very badly written."

What Kind of Problems Do You Think These Writers Are Having?

Harrower: "Because there is no long-term projection, it just makes it more difficult for however is attempting to write these stories. Those that are writing from long form at least know what direction the show is going to take now. The producers do not want to advance the story any faster than they can help it. While other soaps can turn to action or acts of violence, Y&R is not that kind of show. One major problem the writers will have to deal with is Nikki Newman's pregnancy. Melody Thomas Scott is several months pregnant. Soon it will become obvious and the new writers will have to deal with that, and it may not be the way we who are sitting at home watching and waiting for the strike to end would be writing it. The only one who can make these decisions now is the producer since we can't sit down and discuss it."

Do You Think the Writers of Daytime Dramas Should be Included In This Strike?

Marland: "No. I think our Gould should protect us from this kind of a strike. After all, we have the only jobs that are being filled every day by other writers."

McTavish: "Yes. The producers of AMC can sell the show to as many foreign countries as many times as they want. They get a payment every time the show is run, but the writers only get one payment that is a portion of their minimum salary. In other words, the producers can sell my product forty times and pay me only once, while they get paid forty times. We would like that cap off foreign residuals.

Labine: "Yes. In the area of our minimum salaries, the producers have asked us to take a rollback. If we do not get an extra increase, and with inflation, it means we are getting less money. We have not had an increase since 1973 and we think it's time for one."

Stephanie Braxton (script writer, ATWT): "My contract was due to be renewed just before the strike took place and I was in the middle of negotiations when the walkout occurred. When we go back to work, I will continue to write under my old contract, but as soon as a new one is negotiated, I expect to be paid an increase that is retroactive to the strike. The danger for a lot of writers is that at some point after the strike is settled, the producers could decide to terminate the old writers and rehire those who had been writing during the strike at a much lower rate of salary.

Note: Cheryl Rhoden, spokeswoman for the WGA on the West Coast said that no writer whose contract has expired can be terminated while the strike is in effect. They can, however, be suspended and the contract renegotiated upon settlement of the strike.

Do the Actors Call You?

McTavish: I haven't heard directly from the actors, but I know they are rewriting a lot. I think it must be very confusing for them now. Brooke went out to search for Tom the last time we wrote for her and the next time we saw her, she had been on a business trip to Chicago. When Brooke left, she and Adam had been in a very rocky place in their relationship. Then she came back to town and everything was lovey-dovey."

Harrower: "My daughter, Susan Seaforth Hayes, who plays JoAnna on Y&R, says a great deal of cutting and editing is being done. If a scab writer is an amateur, they have tendency to write block speeches, long paragraphs that can paralyze an actor and they oftentimes cut them. The actors I have spoken with don't have a great sense of security, especially if there are definite climaxes coming up. For instance, what will Phillip do about Nina and Cricket?"

Do You Still Watch Your Shows? How Does it Feel?

Braxton: "I watch the show a lot, partly because if they say, we are going back to work on Monday, you have to keep up and I really have no choice but to keep watching."

Tomlin: "I try to watch SANTA BARBARA whenever I can and I notice the structure of the show isn't very good most days."

Marland: "I watch the show every day without fail, but it is strange. I feel very cut off."

McTavish: "It's hard to watch scenes missed, moments missed. It's just plain painful."

Labine: "I can't watch the show. I find it too painful. My investment in the fantasy is too great and if the characters are behaving in any way that is irrational or peculiar to me then I get so upset. I can't deal with it. I have only seen two or three and when I do watch it, I am very aware that the story is being told differently from the way I would tell it."

How Do You Think The Viewers Are Being Affected?

Labine: "It takes a long time to see a drop in ratings and it takes a while to see them rise again. Daytime audiences are very patient, but just the time when the strike is over, that's when it's going to start to erode. I do think some of the viewers may be noticing now. There is a lot of inconsistency now."

McTavish: "It takes a long time and a lot for the viewer to turn off a set. I hope the viewers stick with it and if they are unhappy about what they are seeing, by all means be vocal and put whatever pressure on the networks and producers they can by writing about their displeasure."

Harrower: "The Y&R viewers will, I think, hang in there as long as you give them a reasonably accurate facsimile."

Marland: "Daytime television fans are tremendously loyal and even though they notice a chance, they will continue to watch."

Braxton: "I think the viewing habits will change. Those people who are watching five days a week will start watching only two or three times a week and then eventually once a week just to keep up with the story line. In some cases, regular viewers may not return to watching the show."

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I knew someone might notice her remarks. :lol:

Here's the end:

Where It Stands

On May 26, a contract was approved for the Guild membership and approximately seventy independent production companies. "These companies have demonstrated that a contract that meets the concerns and needs of writers is both productive and profitable," said Brian Walton, executive director of the WGA West and chief negotiator for the Writers Guild of America.

The new terms are as follows:

- Writers will receive annual increases of 5 percent for each of the first two years of the contract, thereafter, percentage increases will mirror increases negotiated with the AMPTP.

- In the area of foreign residuals for television, a fixed-residuals formula has been approved. It provides for a payment of 35 percent minimum for an initial three years of telecasting and an additional 5 percent for each subsequent year that the program is telecast in a foreign market.

- A 52 percent increase was granted to one-hour breakdown minimums, allowing those writers to qualify for Health and Welfare benefits.

-Credits must appear on screen at least three times a week for daytime serials.

- Twenty-six-week employment cycles in daytime serials after four thirteen-week cycles is guaranteed.

- It is hoped that these new terms - agreed upon by a number of independent production companies - will help the negotiations and bring an end to the strike.

Of the eighty companies that had signed the agreement by June 2, 1988, none produced any of the daytime serials.

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if I recall right I remember reading Marland was horrified with the whole Craig is alive but Sierra dies story, which he would spend 1989 correcting until writing the duo out in 1990. With Harrower's comments I wonder who was writing Y&R and B&B during the 88 strike...

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That's fascinating. I never knew that. I can see why he was upset -- although it is soapy, it is also a huge slap in the face to fans. How did he plan to write Finn Carter out? Finn left on her own choice right?

I wonder who the new character was who came in while was out. Spence?

The article also mentioned that Dusty left and he had no power over his exit. Considering that, Dusty's exit was actually pretty decent -- he said goodbye to everyone important to him and left with dignity.

What were Y&R's strike stories?

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Readers were asked for some of their ideas for what should happen and what should end during the strike.

For AMC:

One reader said Skye should leave and Barbara and Tom should be together. Barbara gets pregnant and isn't sure whether to keep it. Tom would find out and be unsure whether to be with her or stay loyal to Skye. Brooke and Adam should stay in competition but when Brooke tries to get pregnant she can't conceive, which causes more conflict with Adam. More sparks fly when Brooke learns Barbara is pregnant. Charlie and Julie have sex before marriage and she gets pregnant. They then get married quickly and have to struggle with money and emotions. Pamela Blackthorne ruins Travis financially and he becomes a drunk. Jack and Erica become close friends while working on the movie project. Jack discovers Pamela was responsible for Travis's problems and Jack tries to save Travis and his relationship with Erica. Travis and Jack bury the hatchet and have business stories at Montgomery Enterprises. Keep Cindy for as long as possible, and don't let Karen be her twin. Give Jeremy a purpose in life. Cecily becomes a new Phoebe. Cliff gets a romance. Jesse and Angie have more story. So do Joe and Ruth. Mark and Ellen should be happy, Sean and Pamela get together to cause trouble.

Another reader says keep Tom and Barbara together. Give Phoebe and Langley more to do. Stop writing Natalie as the victim. Make her more like Daisy in her battles with Palmer. Take away Erica's money. Don't make Karen Cindy's twin. End the story about Skye's coma. Who cares?

Another World:

Continue to develop the "hidden chemistry" of Cheryl and John and have John work to convince her family that age doesn't matter.

Another reader says that Carl Hutchins should return to try to take over Cory Publishing, leading to big conflict with Mac.


Rod/Josh's father should arrive. He should be the father of the rich, handsome cowboy who fell for Lily. The wealthy rancher became sick of the name Rod Landry, changed his name and built an empire in Wyoming. One day 30 years later he starts to think about the son he left behind. He finds Josh and tries to get close to him. When he learns of Betsy's financial problems, he gives Josh money, and Josh begins to build an empire in Oakdale.


Thorne goes to a foreign country on business. He's presumed dead via plane crash. Ridge and Caroline eventually marry and soon after Throne returns to Los Angeles.


One reader said Victoria needs a real romance -- how about Paula Carson? Serena Colville will be the other woman in the triangle. Enough about Caroline. Serena's threats and meddling will bring Paula and Victor closer. Eve needs to evolve if she's going to stay a villain. She seduces Frankie, then sleeps with Nick Corelli. She gets pregnant and realizes Nick is the father, but lies to get Frankie to marry her. Work on the problems between Diana and Roman. If they marry how will she deal with his kids? What if she wants a biological child? They need a genuine difference of opinion; internal conflict. Roman wants to use birth control, and Diana can't deal with mothering his kids.

Another reader says to keep an unrequited love between Shane and Gabrielle. Involve them in espionage. Reveal that the person who gave Gabrielle a drug overdose was not the "knifer." Gabrielle realizes she's in danger, and she pushes Eve away and doesn't tell Shane why, as she knows he's with Kim. She leaves Salem. Shane worries and he follows her. Kim says it's wrong. Shane and Gabrielle battle spies and crime, while Eve is bitter and Kim is home alone angry at Shane.

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AMC: I heard somewhere that they killed Jesse off during the strike? True? False?

GL: I hear the Sonni story had no direction and just stalled though it actually made the story better in the long-run. Did they reveal Blake as Roger/Holly's daughter during that time or was that revealed after the writers' came back?

Y + R: Wasn't Brad's 1st wife Lisa introduced at that time?

DAYS: Patch/Kayla's wedding on the ship was during the strike.

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I think all this happened. Darnell wanted to leave but there was no plan to kill him off -- Agnes was very upset about that.

GL - Yes, all that happened. The story with Sonni/Solita became very confusing. Blake was brought in and revealed as Roger and Holly's daughter. Pam Long was upset with who they cast in her absence and had Elizabeth Denehy fired after the strike was over.

AW was all over the place at this time. Cass and Nicole went to a haunted house and a woman's ghost made him think of Kathleen. He then got over her death. Stephen Schnetzer dismissed it as a "strike story," as he said Cass had already mourned Kathleen when he and Nicole were on an island. They dropped the John/Cheryl stuff and someone, Lemay or someone else, brought in Sharlene and Josie. Cheryl and Scott left town in July. Matt had a filler story for months with his best friend from boarding school and the guy's sister, who had a crush on Matthew (she was played by Gabrielle Carteris). Some man tried to take over Cory, tried to rape Amanda, blackmail her, and so on, and was then presumed dead. Mac went to jail. Then suddenly Cass and Felicia and Nicole had a wacky romp in Vegas and exposed this guy as still being alive. I don't think at this time Iris was planned for the story. I think that was Lemay. I remember this time for the hilarious filler scenes which took up so much of an episode, where the Dirty Dancing dancers stopped into Bay City for a show. I think they had 2 or 3 dances! This time also had the meandering story about Chris, who had the hots for John but then didn't, who filed a sexual harassment lawsuit against him, and was soon revealed as being insane because when she was in Vietnam her husband and baby had been killed. This time also featured Michael Louden as a border at Sharlene's farm. I'm not sure whether this was a strike writer or Lemay. Anyway, he vanished after a few weeks.

OLTL: The 1888 story was extended throughout the summer.

You can find a listing for RH strike stories here:

Anyone know about anything else on these soaps, or other soaps?

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Some of those stories for Y&R seem pretty good...aside from Ashley/Steven and the stuff about Scott and Cricket being siblings, which I always thought was bizarre. I think genoacityguy put some of that on Youtube last week. I remember some saying the Cassandra/George story was confusing. The strike might have been why.

What did you think of the strike stories for Y&R or the other shows you watched at the time, DeeeDee?

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