Writers strike will bring fresher, darker entertainment

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On Jan. 7, ABC aired its last taped episode of Desperate Housewives. Like all great season finales, it ended on a cliffhanger: Katherine Mayfair, in a typical Housewives move, rips up and tosses a note into the fire, desperate to keep its dark contents secret, only to have her daughter, Dylan, piece the half-burned remnants back together. Dylan’s face then transforms into a confused contortion of some unexplained emotion as she reads the message that supposedly explains her past. Is the look fear? Is it bewilderment? What is the secret on the note?

We don’t know. And, because of the ongoing writers strike, we won’t find out for a while. But when TV returns, entertainment writing — and the general American public — will be permanently changed, perhaps for the better.

American society is experiencing unrest due to the strike of the Writers Guild of America (WGA), which began in early November. I can feel the tension; the crisis of not airing new episodes on major networks is felt more acutely than the confusion of undecided primary voters or even the Carnegie Mellon stress level. We no longer have that prized hour each week when we excitedly subject ourselves to mindless entertainment.

As enterprising Carnegie Mellon students, we’ve begun to take initiative. We brought back movies from home and six-disc seasons of television shows of yore, like Grey’s Anatomy and Heroes, to combat the nostalgia for those long-lost days of true TV entertainment. Some of us even watched the presidential debates and the news to attempt to heal the hole in our hearts. And yet, we pined. America isn’t America without American entertainment. Who are these writers and what do they want, anyway — and when do we get our TV back?

The WGA, East, and the WGA, West, are labor unions representing 12,000 film, radio, and television writers. Their demand is for compensation for the “residuals” of the industry, which includes online episodes and DVD sales. Residuals in the writing industry help writers in times of unemployment, which is common, acting as a minor stabilizing factor in an otherwise unstable profession.
The nature of being a writer entails a certain amount of risk and instability. The romanticized anguish and strife so present in classic literature of the past could not have come about if authors lived lives of five-star hotels and mountains of cash. Thus is the essence of great literature: Writers’ anger at society for their own “tortured souls” produces more great literature, once they are out of their emo slump. This strike, though hazardous to the average, entertainment-dependent American, is good for the future of the art of putting pen to paper. Once we’re out of this minor depression, TV should be better (and darker) than ever. It’s delayed gratification.

I know now that Dylan’s were eyes of fear, for the note said, “This is the last episode. After this, everyone will be subjected to a dark force far worse than no TV… reality TV.” She had reason to be scared.