Wednesday, 01 February 2023

Annan Jensen: In the beginning, the word

Just as we were starting to realize what a blessing the Writers Guild strike might be, they went back to the negotiating table on Wednesday.


Just as television viewing was declining and people were reporting reading more books, getting more sleep, doing their housework. Just as some of us were hoping for the return of, or at least the reruns of, shows like Sid Caesar, Carol Burnett, Ernie Kovacs, Actors Studio. You know, the Golden Age of television, and the brief golden age of the Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour.


Or maybe you don't know. Once upon a time television shows had heart instead of laugh tracks, and if they told you they were live, they were. Complete with mistakes and bloopers. Nobody was trying to pass off a scripted show as reality. Well, almost nobody. There were nasty incidents like quiz shows which gave favored contestants the answers ahead of time, but people were indignant when those came to light. They didn't just shrug and say “that's television for you” and then keep on watching the same dishonest programs.


The writers have reportedly dropped their proposals for jurisdiction over non-union writers of reality TV and animation, which could be a major breakthrough. Another of their proposals seems more important.


A little integrity, please


It says: “Product placement has existed for a long time, first unpaid and more recently paid placement. Most recently, advertisers seek to have the product mentioned in dialogue, often in the scenes preceding a paid 30-second spot. These product mentions can be clumsy and disruptive to the creative goal of a script. This infringes the creative purview of the writer and defeats the very viewer-engagement the advertisers are counting on. Writers are critical to guarding the creative integrity of the script. If products are integrated, it should be in a way that doesn’t detract from the script.”


We know all about that one in the news business. The occasional advertiser demands a news story about the very same thing they have placed an ad to announce, and the really dumb ones want it on the very same page, not understanding that if they're lucky enough to get it in twice, it will have more impact in different locations. Editors refer to this as selling editorial space, and the good ones don't like it one bit. They fight back.


So, while it's fun to fantasize about the bloated, water-guzzling, Los Angeles basin emptying as thousands of carpenters and hairdressers and seamstresses leave it for lack of work, and about bold maverick producers moving to Lake County, I think I'll stick to hoping the writers hang tough on "guarding the creative integrity of the script." We need all the integrity we can get.


Sophie Annan Jensen lives in Lucerne.


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