Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Glowy Box on the Scene: Daily Show and Colbert Report Writers Stage Mock Debate on the Strike

As a DC-based blogger, I've sadly been left out of most WGA events. No picketing here, no awesome benefit shows to attend, no solidarity rallies. Today, though, DC got its day in the sun as writers from The Daily Show and The Colbert Report staged a mock debate in the halls (well, hearing room) of Congress on why America should care about the strike. And you guys, it was awesome. UPDATE: Scroll down for video of the debate itself, thanks to Campus Progress. The back of my head is totally visible at one point.

In the debate, moderated by the fabulous Dee Dee Myers (Clinton's former press secretary and a consultant for The West Wing), Daily Show writers portrayed the WGA, and Colbert Report writers portrayed AMPTP. (Of course.) Plus, there were several speeches by supportive Members of Congress, and a Q&A with WGA East President Michael Winship. Luckily for you, I'm a decent note-taker, so the following are the highlights of today's hilarious, hilarious event. (Disclaimer: All quotes are as close to verbatim as I could get them, since I didn't have a tape recorder or laptop with me.)

Speeches by the Members of Congress sponsoring the event: Representatives Nadler, Schakowsky, Cohen, Hall, Weiner, and Holt (all Democrats, as if there were any doubt) all spoke in support of the writers. Rep. Hall eloquently stated that "writers supply the fuel that makes the entertainment engine go," and Rep. Holt said that we must reward creativity in order to beget more creativity. Rep. Weiner pointed out that creative intellectual property is our one export where we're head and shoulders above the rest of the world, and that we should probably try and keep it that way. Best of all, though, was Rep. Schakowsky (a woman), who came out sporting a giant fake strike beard in solidarity! Well-played, ma'am.

The Great Debate: Next, Dee Dee Myers got up to moderate the debate, with the "WGA" on her right in shirts, and "AMPTP" ("Ampatapuh? Ahmpitipa?") in suits to her left. Each side had three writers - Peter Gwinn, Michael Brumm, and Tom Purcell from The Colbert Report representing AMPTP, and Jason Ross, Tim Carvell, and Rob Kutner from The Daily Show representing the WGA.

Opening Remarks: The WGA first stated firmly that writers deserve to be compensated wherever and however their work is used, pointing out that to do so would (by some type of math) cost AMPTP less than half of Reese Witherspoon's salary. They then posed the following essential question: "What's more important to a movie - a script, or half of Reese Witherspoon?" (AMPTP: "Which half?") Another WGA representative spoke for a moment about Foucault, the Panopticon, and postmodern theory in general before coming to his main point: "I went to Cambridge."

Dee Dee Myers then gave AMPTP the opportunity for opening remarks. After a polite "Thank you, C.J.," they moved straight into the Truthiness Zone. Fact: The average WGA writer makes more than a volunteer fireman and volunteer crossing guard combined. In fact, they make more than Jesus did as a carpenter. The WGA thinks they're better than Jesus! ("Their words, not mine.") AMPTP further described their position to be "fairish and reasonable-esque," and their offer to the WGA as "nothing-adjacent." Seriously, those Colbert guys are hysterical.

Question and Answer Period: The WGA side presented many legitimately persuasive arguments and statistics before asking AMPTP how much money they made off of the internet last year. Answer: "I don't recall" (cue the Alberto Gonzales jokes). AMPTP also came up with this persuasive gem: "The internet is a baby, and babies don't make money." After some quality Ben Silverman nerds/prom jokes, AMPTP got a chance to make their main point about unions: "The Chinese are beating the Chinese-made pants off of us because they aren't afraid to make their nine-year-olds work in inhalable lead plants." Fair enough, AMPTP, fair enough.

Unfortunately, at this point the debate was interrupted by two "protesters" (also writers), one in a Code Pink-style shirt with the words "Look At Me" scrawled across the front, and the other screaming "Ron Paul for President!" After a yelling match between the protesters, Michael Winship wrangled them out of the room, and the debate was able to go on.

Closing Arguments: AMPTP made an impassioned plea, reminding us that they hadn't bothered us with any hard data before moving on to a convoluted analogy involving a Chinese character which resembles a house. This house represents the fact that we all have to work together to resolve the situation - the writers by writing, and AMPTP by taking the resulting money.

The WGA, on the other hand, asked for a fair deal, a new era in producer-union relationships, and mutual respect. AMPTP saw their point, but just had a cooouple of notes...

Seriously, this whole debate was the perfect combination of education, persuasion, and fabulous comedy. Props to the writers for putting it on, and to Allison Abner, a former West Wing writer, for the genius idea.

Q&A with Michael Winship (WGAE President) and writers:
What can Congress do? Winship replied that they were there to increase awareness, though the strike is certainly about intellectual property and media consolidation, issues that Congress is certainly facing.

Are AMPTP and the WGA close to making a deal? Winship answered, "I live in hope," but clarified that the "DGA deal is not our deal."

Why give up coverage for reality and animation writers? Winship and the WGA leadership believed that at this point, the WGA is better served by focusing on organizing those writers rather than using their coverage as a bargaining point, so that's the direction their efforts will take in the future.

How are you, the writers, doing? The Daily Show and Colbert Report writers said that it varies from writer to writer, but that most are deep into their savings. A Colbert writer made a joke that "we can't publicly discuss what we're doing to get by...it's very embarrassing."

How do you feel about your shows going on without you, and will you return to write for them once the strike is over? The writers had only good things to say about Steven Colbert and John Stewart's support, and said that they'd be pleased to go back to work once the strike is over.

Have you found the public to be sympathetic? Everyone seemed very upbeat about public support, citing polls, support on the blogs (yay!), fans on the picket lines, etc. Right on, public!

Wrap-up: Representative Watson, Chairwoman of the Entertainment Caucus, came out to say that she's setting up a briefing in the near future for WGA members and caucus members, which is pretty cool. Rep. Nadler mentioned that if collective bargaining doesn't play out, Congress could consider legislation on conglomerate issues, etc.

In general, I think it was a really successful event, especially considering the fact that there were numerous news outlets covering it. I was personally very happy to attend, since it was enormously entertaining AND I got to meet several lovely people, including Anna, a guild member based here in DC, and Susan, who helps to coordinate the fantastic WGA Supporters community. She was taking video of the debate, so as soon as she has it uploaded, I'll post the link and you can all take turns pointing out every joke I missed. Man, I miss The Daily Show and The Colbert Report. Send good negotiating vibes, everyone!

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