Not The Daily Show, With Some Writer

Brilliant commentary from a Daily Show writer about the Writer’s Guild strike:

(if no video appears here, than try IE or Safari — or got to YouTube directly.
Firefox has been glitchy with YouTube videos lately)   


There’s a lesson in this: Be careful  about not paying comedy writers, as they have the clever ability to make you look like idiotic shitbags . . .

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Discussions found on the web:
  1. travis commented on Nov 15

    even when they’re slumming on the streets, the daily show writers are still more informative than the standard evening news. I had not heard the $500m remark before.

    I hope this strike doesn’t last long. I’m sure it will.

  2. Eric Sebille commented on Nov 15

    Dont worry the Writers in California will just tap their home equity to get by if the strike is prolonged…oh wait..

  3. Dave commented on Nov 15

    That was the funniest thing I have seen in long time. And your commentary was even better. “There’s a lesson in this: Be careful about not paying comedy writers, as they have the clever ability to make you look like idiotic shitbags . . .” I almost spit out my drink I was laughing so hard.

    To me this is one of the few times in the past 50 years where a union actually did something that made sense.

  4. John commented on Nov 16

    I second that. I have an instinctive hatred of unions, but they put it in a way that just makes perfect sense. I hate it when media companies sue companies like youtube or thepiratebay, but at least the writers should share in the loot.

  5. Doug commented on Nov 16

    Employees are paid for their time, employers for the products they sell. If you have signed the deal to contribute labor to the enterprise, the employer signs a paycheck. You cash that check and your “rights” to the work product are relinquished. If you can negotiate a premium for the value of that labor in each usage, good on you. But, if you can’t, it doesn’t make the employer less human for keeping the profit. They take all the risk in producing and marketing your brilliant work. If you can’t make a living off of it at the market rate, maybe it’s time to consider another line of work.

  6. speedlet commented on Nov 16

    The big media companies have picked the wrong fight at the worst possible time.

    Prior to the 1988 WGA strike, the four major networks had 90% of the TV audience. By the time that five-month strike was over, they had 65%. The migration to cable had begun, and it hasn’t really stopped since. If anything, it’s accelerating: audiences and advertisers are now flocking to the internet.

    So what do they do? They pick a fight with a labor union — and stop producing original content entirely. If this strike lasts more than three months, both the current season and next year’s pilot season will be scrapped. It will be 2009 before there is any original programming on network TV. Two years — more than enough time for Google to soak up what’s left of their advertiser base.

    Oh, and the money the Guilds are asking for? Less than $30 million per studio — total. They’ve already lost more than this over a strike that could have been easily avoided. Well done, gentlemen!

    This is a major turning point in the transition from old to new media. If you own these stocks, sell them. If you don’t, short them.

  7. Leisa commented on Nov 16

    Very well done! I’m convinced that S. Redstone is Donald Trump’s father.

    Regarding the recompense that they the writer’s are asking for–they are talent/artists, not like most of us! They are in the “creation” business. Actors are getting these residuals from syndication and other media now because they are negotiating them. Is an actor any different than a writer? Both are talent, just a different creative venue.

    I believe that it is a little lopsided to characterize capitalists as taking all the risks and workers as just getting paid for the transmission of their labor. Workers take risks by throwing themselves into a company that may or many not succeed and thrive. If you take care of your people first, they will take care of your customers and business will thrive.

    Organizations that relegate their people to a labor input that must me maximized in output and minimized on compensation often find themselves struggling. Their good talent walks, and their good customers head for the door. For good reason.

  8. pmorrisonfl commented on Nov 16

    > Employees are paid for their time, employers for the products they sell.
    > If you have signed the deal to contribute labor to the enterprise, the employer signs a paycheck.
    >You cash that check and your “rights” to the work product are relinquished.

    There are many employers with this view of the market. When employees have a choice, they often choose to work elsewhere, particularly when the employee is a capable producer of creative product. IT and software development aren’t exactly like writing and acting, but the best developers I know see their work and their careers as products, and wind up doing that work for people who will grant them that respect.

    I’d say the expressed ’employee is paid for their time’ view will get you the lowest common denominator of worker, and will diminish their morale. That may be a good business for someone, but I’d rather not meet them.

  9. OkieLawyer commented on Nov 16

    [Employers] take all the risk in producing and marketing your brilliant work. If you can’t make a living off of it at the market rate, maybe it’s time to consider another line of work.

    Except when it’s not true. Workers do take a risk working for an employer.

    The real issue is one of bargaining power. Most workers do not have enough bargaining power to get paid what they are truly worth. Taken to the extreme, workers become virtual slaves.

    Given the squeeze American workers have been through in recent years, expect more labor strikes and strife in the coming future.

  10. D. commented on Nov 16

    I find it quite impressive that so many middle class Americans hate unions considering unions created the middle-class!

    Somewhere along the way the middle class got brain-washed into thinking that they all had a chance to get to the top and that wealth is measured in spending potential, not net worth. The true rich all know that it’s still all about net worth.

    Now that they’re finally maxed out after 2-3 decades of build-up, the middle class is starting to realize that unions were there to squeeze the margin in their favor.

  11. JB commented on Nov 16

    It’s touched upon in these comments, but Doug is missing the point that the writers collectively possess a unique and valuable talent.

    This gives them leverage and they are applying that leverage now.

    Economists refer to this as ‘economic rent’ – I’m sure you can find something on that at wikipedia (or at least through google).

  12. Doug commented on Nov 16

    I do appreciate that there are nickel and dimes issues that the employee/employer equation may oversimplify. Take it as a “man in the street” view of the free market. Without the capital to risk on producing, the words have only intrinsic value to them that wrote it. That and $3.50 will get you a Starbucks. Speaking as a consumer of that product, I for one have lost my appetite for the bias and fluff that passes for content these days. What makes words on a page worth granting a license for residuals payment?? Shakespeare it ain’t.

  13. MAS (Seattle) commented on Nov 16

    Other striking unions should strive to be this entertaining.

  14. Dave commented on Nov 16

    The internet is dramatically lowering the cost of entry to the business of providing entertainment. This very funny video is just an example.

  15. Pool Shark commented on Nov 16

    This is supposed to be funny?

    I want my 4 minutes and 23 seconds back.

    (Agrees with Doug)

  16. jkw commented on Nov 16

    Labor unions are a bad solution to a real problem. The problem is that most individual people have no bargaining power. There is almost always someone else willing to work for lower pay, especially when the employers realize this and start cutting pay everywhere. The labor market is not a free market, because the sellers of labor don’t really have the option of not participating. If you don’t work, you will starve to death.

    Since the labor market doesn’t work as an unregulated market, capitalism falls apart unless something is done to fix the labor market. Labor unions are one possible solution, because they give workers who manage to form/join them enough bargaining power to fix the market. But they are bad for everyone who is not in a union, and especially bad for the working poor who are not in unions because they still have no bargaining power and they have to pay higher prices. Minimum wage laws provide a better solution because they apply to everyone equally, but they only work if they are updated often enough to keep up with inflation and if they are strictly enforced.

    My preferred solution is strong unemployment insurance. In other words, you pay everyone who doesn’t have a job just barely enough for them to live on. Then people can choose to not work if nobody is willing to pay them a decent amount. It also provides automatic counter-cyclic spending by the government to help reduce the severity of recessions. But I’m a socialist.

  17. speedlet commented on Nov 16


    What value is a distribution channel with no content?

    It’s fascinating that people who have no objection to gigantic executive stock option grants somehow have a big problem with writers earning 4 cents on a DVD of a movie they wrote.

    Executives justify this enormous dilution of shareholder value by claiming — get this — that they are “star talent” and deserve to be overcompensated. So you tell me: is Chuck Prince more of a star than the writers of the Daily Show?

  18. TenguPhule commented on Nov 16


    Following your laughable chain of logic to its natural end, does this mean customers who buy dvds therefore have unlimited usage and copying rights because they took the risk of buying the product and therefore own the material on it in its entirety?

  19. Doug commented on Nov 16

    Hello to all,
    I don’t have a pat answer to the current dilemma between talent and providers of content. Unions and over compensated executives are both in the free market as practiced today, and all I can tell you is neither one is earning much sympathy from me. Free market aren’t pure, they’re not perfect, nor will it produce outcomes to suit everyone’s sense of what’s fair. It’s whether the product is worth the sticker price that matters to me. As it happens, I haven’t had cable in my home in ten years. It’s like that cup of Starbucks, mostly overrated, overcooked, overpriced brew. But there are plenty of willing buyers and that’s all fine with me. If the union gets an offer of two cents they should probably take the deal. Things are very fluid, and the market for writers is overflowing with fresh talent, just look around at some of the better blogs. How much residuals do the best bloggers get? Zippitydamdoo, unless they publish a book. How many of them do you suppose harbor undiscovered talent as story tellers? Maybe half a loaf would be better than none. Maybe a shake out of the deadwood could revive the TV as a source of high quality entertainment, but I’m not holding my breath.

  20. speedlet commented on Nov 16

    Doug’s question:

    “How much residuals do the best bloggers get? Zippitydamdoo, unless they publish a book.”


    See those little ads on the left-hand side of the page? The ones that say “Ads by Google?” Barry Ritholtz gets paid for those.

    Just so you know.

  21. Doug commented on Nov 16

    It’s a fair point, some bloggers have earned money from their blogs. I’m not an expert and don’t claim any special knowledge of the nuances involved. Though ad revenue from click and pay may track Barry’s performance as a blogger; better commentary, more page views / ad clicks, so forth. Sponsors paying for ad space on his website is somewhat different. It’s a dollar stream that goes along with the management of his website. If he stopped refreshing the content, revenue from ads would suffer. Is this really analogous to residuals, the “economic rent” agreed to for the continual reuse of the same work product?

  22. speedlet commented on Nov 16

    It’s really not even that complex, Doug.

    The Daily Show’s writers provide content to Viacom. In return, they expect to be paid. If Viacom won’t pay their price, they won’t provide content for Viacom.

    This is how the labor market works in a capitalist society. Your gardener, your lawyer, your plumber, your CEO — they all have a price. If you don’t like that price, you don’t have to pay it. If they don’t like the price you’re willing to pay, they don’t have to provide their goods and services.

    The price of the Daily Show’s writers is a salary plus a small payment for re-use. If you don’t pay them their price, they won’t provide content for you. They don’t need an elaborate justification for it, any more than you do for getting whatever you paid to do whatever you do for a living.

    If Viacom could outsource the writing of the Daily Show to a sweatshop in Guangdong, China, they would. But they can’t. Similarly, if there were an army of bloggers out there who could write the Daily Show for peanuts, Viacom would have hired them by now. Instead, to keep this very lucrative franchise alive, they’re forced to pay the people who create it.

  23. Doug commented on Nov 16

    Very well said, Speedlet.

    I’m not vested in a particular outcome, except as a consumer.

    It will negatively affect the quality of the product, but eventually, the market’s going to go where it wants to go. And we will continue to adapt. Unions won’t protect writers from increased competition forever. It’s simply not within their power. The market is again showing them a hard truth, and fairness has very little to do with it. Look at animators. Unions need to adapt their business model to the 21st century, whatever that entails.

    thanks for the reasonable debate

  24. riverrat commented on Nov 17

    Hilarious, well chosen video clip and intelligent, respectful debate about the very serious points it makes. Thanks folks. Thats’s what makes this a great blog.

  25. speedlet commented on Nov 17


    “Unions won’t protect writers from increased competition forever. It’s simply not within their power. The market is again showing them a hard truth, and fairness has very little to do with it.”

    There seems to be a misunderstanding here. The WGA is not even remotely an anti-free-market institution.

    The WGA doesn’t protect writers from competition. Anyone can sell a script to a movie studio. As soon as you do, you are instantly eligible for membership in the WGA. You also have the option not to join, although almost no one has ever opted out, because the benefits of membership are considerable. As a result, there is a thriving free market in writers’ services, and the prices of their services vary considerably.

    The market isn’t “showing the writers a hard truth”. Times are very good for TV and movie writers. Working writers who are in demand make an embarrassing amount of money, because they command a high price for their talents. These aren’t janitors or auto workers on an assembly line. They are capitalists, and they are demanding a premium for premium product.

  26. Doug commented on Nov 17

    Thank you for the clarification. I was unaware of that perspective. I think unions have done good things in the past. Will a few cents residuals improve the lives of most writers? Doubt I’ll ever get a “no BS” answer to that question. Will the strike hurt my bottom line? It could, if it lasts. But I guess writers have to make their case now or miss out on the windfall, right? Is it as important as securing workplace safety, and health benefits? I wouldn’t want to lose my house over it.

  27. Dave commented on Nov 18

    1/ There’s an old Hollywoood joke about the starlet who was so stupid she slept with the writer
    2/ There must be a gadzillion screenplays and teleplays out there. These writers should be glad they’re getting paid what they’re getting paid.
    3/ If these writers think they can make money on the internet, why do they need studios?

  28. speedlet commented on Nov 19

    Doug —

    “Will a few cents improve the lives of writers?”

    It depends. The guy who created High School Musical, which has become a billion-dollar franchise for Disney, got paid a relative pittance for his script — but he gets to participate in the profits via residuals, and is now very well-off as a result. If it weren’t for residuals, he’d have been locked out of the upside. Marc Cherry famously had a long period of unemployment during which he was able to live on residuals — which enabled him to create Desperate Housewives. Most writers consider residuals to be something worth fighting for.

    Dave —

    2) There are indeed a lot of screenplays out there. Some sell for millions of dollars. The vast majority never sell at all. There’s a good reason for this: the vast majority are absolutely unproduceable. Good writing commands a huge premium, because it’s so scarce.

    3) Actually, this strike has already resulted in a lot of writers striking deals with Venture Capital firms from Silicon Valley. Instead of working for studios, these writers are producing their own shows on the internet (a la Quarterlife) and retaining an ownership stake. This is a 21st century business model that enables writers to own not 0.3% of the profits from the brands they create, but 50%. Most importantly, they retain their copyright. Marc Andreesen predicted this on his blog –an eventual shift from the outdated Hollywood business model to a new Silicon Valley business model. The strike is accelerating this process. If the strike lasts a year, you can expect to see a mass exodus to the internet. This is very good news for writers.

  29. Doug commented on Nov 19

    If I had a vote on this, which I don’t, I might be willing to sell it to the writers. I have a soft spot for the workers, since I’m one of them that works for a living. But, if the strike drags on for a year, the local economy tanks, my income drops off dramatically, and I lose my house, I’m pretty sure writers will rank somewhere near suicide bombers in public esteem. They have a case to make for putting others through this kind of pain for their own selfish interests, they better make it good.

  30. speedlet commented on Nov 19

    The local economy is already tanking. Los Angeles is one of the 2-3 biggest bubble markets in the world. LA is in for a hellacious recession. Don’t blame the writers for that — blame your friendly mortgage lender.

  31. Doug commented on Nov 19

    Fortunately, we’re a long way from suffering these kind of effects from this strike. There is a ray of hope in the scheduled meeting, at least they’re talking.

  32. speedlet commented on Nov 19

    Agreed. Have a happy Thanksgiving, Doug!

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