Writerless Talk Show Hosts And Unemployed Agents: Looking At The Coming Strike's Real Victims

Catching a strong whiff of the fetid stench of fear wafting off everyone currently drawing a paycheck in the entertainment industry, today's LAT offers up two pieces on the looming™ writers strike that seems increasingly inevitable every time the WGA and the Alliance of Motion Picture & Television Producers break from their negotiating sessions to issue dueling press releases decrying the other side's commitment to destroying Hollywood with their unchecked greed. In his column on a possible strike's impact on the TV landscape, Scott Collins travels back to 1988 in his Labor Strife Wayback Machine to see if there are any lessons to be learned from the network schedules resulting from that year's crippling work stoppage:

In fact, the 1988 strike already offers clues about what we might expect this time around. Back then, newsmagazines like "48 Hours" caught on while scripted shows went dark. Some series, most notably "Moonlighting," never recovered from the disruption. And some folks made a valiant attempt to carry on: The host of NBC's "Late Night With David Letterman" gamely tried to write his own "Top 10 List" for a while.

Indeed, the prospect of watching Jay Leno flail through nightly "Jaywalkin'" sketches in which he's forced to expose the ignorance of Melrose Avenue tourists without the benefit of his writing staff is almost too horrible a scenario to consider. But perhaps an even more unpleasant result of a strike would be the hit it delivers to Hollywood's deal-making caste, as the second of the Times stories notes that agents are scrambling to broker peace between the writers and the studios, painfully aware they'll be decimated if they have no product to sell:

The bulk of agency income comes from the commissions agents earn on movie and TV deals as well as the "packaging fees" from TV shows they help put together.

A strike would cut through the heart of agencies' revenue — particularly for those agencies that are less diversified in their representation. In a prolonged strike, agencies would probably be forced to take drastic measures, including layoffs.

Most Hollywood talent agencies have contingency plans to cut their staffs in the event of a walkout. Even without the threat of a strike, agencies have been under steady pressure in recent years to increase revenue and cut expenses as studios make fewer movies in the face of spiraling marketing and production costs.

Hoping that considering the sad plight of the ten-percenters who'll be put out on the street during the stoppage will inject a new sense of urgency into the talks, the Big Five agencies plan to station sunken-cheeked junior reps clad in tattered Armani on the sidewalks outside of each forthcoming bargaining session, carrying picket signs that read, "If you strike, you're taking the babies right out of our mouths." Faced with the chilling potential consequences of their actions, no writer or studio executive will be able to continue to negotiate in bad faith as their contract's expiration date rapidly approaches.