How to beat a writer's strike without having to use, you know, words

As the Writers Guild of America strike stretches on, the television industry is beginning to react, and it isn't pretty. Crosscut has come across a secret memo by one of the industry's organizing groups, S.C.A.B.S.
As the Writers Guild of America strike stretches on, the television industry is beginning to react, and it isn't pretty. Crosscut has come across a secret memo by one of the industry's organizing groups, S.C.A.B.S.

From: L. Peyton Whitelow, Director,
Secret Commission for Accessible Broadcast Substitutes
To: Top Management
For Your Eyes Only

Although the Writers Guild of America strike is still young, our Commission has already identified and developed non-union-tainted program replacements that can be immediately dumped into the schedule if, as we assume in an election year, our National Association of Broadcasters-supported toadies in Congress are unable to bully the writers into returning. Unfortunately it's not like the old days, when "Hollywood writer" and "communist" were interchangeable terms. (Where's Dick Nixon when you need him?)

We've been working along two lines: First, revising and/or repackaging existing programs to avoid union interference. Like The Tonight Show. The Republican National Committee has been writing a lot of Leno's monologue for years now, just like the Democrats and secular humanists have been slipping bits to Jon Stewart. By simply acknowledging the GOP-Jay connection, Tonight can return tomorrow. And Giuliani's boys tell me they've stockpiled more than 3,000 "new" Monica Lewinsky jokes, so Jay should be set until the conventions, and even beyond if Hillary is the D.

The second thing we've done is create new programs and series free of the cancer of Writer's Guild involvement, and cheap besides. Some are unique, while others benefit from show titles that the viewing public (people who feel intellectually challenged by the TV Guide crossword) will mistake for other, more famous shows.

Here's what we have:

Walking With The Stars! – Management made this hit possible without even trying. By forbidding picketers on your property, you've forced them onto the sidewalks. On WWTS, we take our cameras out to the picket lines and (carefully standing on our property, carefully photographing only those on public property) shoot the hell out of anybody who struts by who has even the slightest fame. In the remote truck, three judges – an unemployed starlet, John Davidson, and a wiseass Limey who'll work cheap – judge the stars on their walks, their hair, their clothes, belittling them whenever possible. (Like: "Look at Sally Field's fat ass! They've been shooting around that for decades!"; "Patrick 'McShrimp' Dempsey's only four feet tall!" and "Isn't that David Caruso over there in drag?") Think of WWTS as one of those Red Carpet shows, only without the carpet, Joan Rivers, or a bimbo from ET sucking up to everybody. And as a side benefit, how eager are stars going to be to disparage management when they know we'll nail them the next day?

Knit/Tux – Can it be done? We'll see as each week the razor-sharp needles of the 1974 Iowa State Fair knitting champs turn a mountain of black wool yarn into apparel that's not at all Calvin Klein, just very "Ol' Calvin." At the same time the ancient dollies have to overcome physical challenges – sitting on blocks of ice, hanging from water towers, eating hot pastrami with New York mustard, etc.

Trump You, Sucka! – We've planned a number of shows around celebrities who think they're so inherently attractive, compelling and witty that they don't need writers. People like Oprah, who's starring in an upcoming show called Oprah Winfrey's Big Give, where she gives ABC's money to needy people. Trump You, Sucka! is a similar effort, only the flip side. Donald Trump cheats people out of their life savings by selling them worthless real estate. The audience-grabber here is that he doesn't give the money back, he keeps it! Just as he did with "You're fired!" soon all of America will be saying, "Trump you, sucka!" Just as The Donald is contractually required to do four times a broadcast. (We retain copyright on the phrase.)

Similar programs include:

  • David Spade's Go On! Bust Me In The Mouth! – Each week some very big stars bust the smug little bastard in the mouth. (We're still looking for a tasteful way to do a Kathy Griffin version).
  • Ken Burns' The Wart – Ken has discovered that many common people have unsightly blemishes that they want to talk about while sad violins play in the background.
  • Ryan Seacrest's Rockin' Partial Makeover - For an hour each week the personable star grins broadly at his gardener, plumber, drywall guy, tile man, and the other workers who are doing a remodel on Ryan's fabulous bachelor apartment.
  • And something with Martin Short, as soon as we find a producer who can stand to be in the same room with him for more than five minutes.

Finally, we've been broadcasting programs and series for a very long time. And while the audience might remember the specifics of a few shows – the last episode of M*A*S*H, Jimmy Smits finally dying on NYPD BLUE – in the main we have at least 50 years of scripts in storage that are all but forgotten. (Can anyone besides Dack Rambo's mother tell me what happened on the third episode of The Guns of Will Sonnett? I don't think so.) Should the strike last so long that viewers finally tire of cheap reality shows (imagine!), we at S.C.A.B.S. have a suggestion on what we can do with all this existing material:

Get reproduced.


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