Monday, November 19, 2007

Tinsletown Gets Real
by Michael Fox | Nov 16 2007

I drive around West Los Angeles every day, where Beverly Hills, Century City, Culver City are home to major production companies and studios, the largest of which are Fox and Sony (Columbia). Both of those studios face major thoroughfares, the sidewalks of which are carpeted with picketers, wearing bright red t-shirts and holding WGA strike signs.

As the cars pass by, they honk, some loud and long, some rhythmically, some just a fast beep. But it seems that oftentimes every car on Pico Blvd (Fox) and on Overland Ave. (Sony) is honking. The city is in favor of the writers. Here in L.A., the people get it. Everyone knows why they’re striking and how bloated and shamelessly greedy the studios have become.

Back in 1948, the legendary Studio System was broken down when the Supreme Court forced the studios to divest of their cinemas. The Hollywood Antitrust Case of 1948 (United States v. Paramount Pictures, Inc) was intended to break up the extraordinary power amassed by the major motion picture studios by making the showcasing of films (chains of movie theatres) independent of the production companies that made them. The last of the divestitures was completed in 1954 – just in time for television.

The studios all set up television production companies, and for many years those subsidiary companies (Screen Gems, Filmways, etc.) made television series which were then sold to the networks for broadcast.

Only in the last ten years did the Studios end up actually acquiring the networks, (Viacom/Paramount/CBS; Universal/NBC; Disney/ABC; Fox/NewsCorp/Fox; TimeWarner/CW), thus, in the contemporary paradigm, re-acquiring the distribution chain. They also market the DVDs that now constitute the way most people now end up seeing movies.

Even the legendary old moguls wouldn’t recognize these behemoths. These are media conglomerates so huge that the management seems to have become able to ignore the simple fact that all of their content begins with the written word (yes, even on those “reality shows” there is – at the very least – a scripted framework).

Back in the real world, the doctor’s offices, dentist’s chairs, and restaurants are all empty. You want to see one of those Beverly Hills specialists that usually makes you wait six weeks for an appointment? Come on over. And, guess what? As much as their practices are suffering, they, too, seem to get it. Shops, department stores, and supermarkets in the area are all eerily quiet. But even the side streets, blocks from the studios at any given time have red t-shirt union people strolling to and from the actual protest sites. The visibility is tremendous, and the zeitgeist in L.A. seem unanimous: This is not the fault of the writers – the studios have reverted to the state they were in 1948 (and then some), they are greedy beyond any sense of reason, and we are all damn mad – and supportive of the strike; the writers must get their fair share of the income their work generates.

A strike that shuts down the second largest industry in the second largest city in the country is a huge burden on the whole city, but all I see is solidarity with the writers. And it’s refreshing. Because the complacency that got us to where we are is ending. Perhaps this is a first glance of an America fed up and fighting back!