It's punishment time. The WGA's on strike, determined to inflict maximum pain on the producers. Meanwhile, the AMPTP has compared the WGA to McCarthyites and announced that its next bargaining sessions will probably be with the DGA, in an attempt to cut an early deal with the directors, undercut the writers, and spank the WGA for striking. And, at least one studio has fired showrunners' personal assistants, many of whom are probably young aspiring writers to whom the showrunner is a mentor. "Make the pain personal" seems to be the theme. Neither party is willing to return to the bargaining table without conditions, and even backchannel discussions have largely ceased.
It doesn't have to be this way. Every few days, the newspapers carry a heartwarming story about great forgiveness between people wronged. If lions can lie down with lambs — and I'm not talking about the Redford movie — surely the writers and producers can cross the chasm that divides them. But how?
Start small, because small steps matter. Here's a modest proposal. The WGA should unilaterally impose a moratorium on picketing one day a week — say Tuesday, Wednesday or Thursday (so there are no jokes about the moratorium being an excuse for three-day weekends). The strike would stay in effect, but picketing would stop for a day a week. And, for their part, the studios and networks should unilaterally provide writers on the picket lines with pizza and drinks one day a week. Execs — not just assistants — should deliver the eats, and share a bite or two on the line as well.
Meanwhile, the negotiators should plan a social outing for themselves: perhaps a group tour of the Dali exhibit at the LA County Museum of Art, or maybe a trip to Catalina (although that might be even more chilly than the climate in the industry). Substantive discussion should be optional for now. Instead, the conversation ought to be about art or wildlife. What these people need is a good road trip.
Sound crazy? You bet. Pollyannaish? Yes. But we've really reached the point where pizza and a time-out would count as progress. Mixed signals are better than the unremitting hostility that now prevails. Each side needs to confuse the other with kindness, and remind itself that both parties are partners in an industry that can ill afford a long walkout. Perhaps a bit of unconventional thinking can break the impasse and restart the talks.
This article originally appeared in The Huffington Post on November 14, 2007 at http://www.huffingtonpost.com/jonathan-handel/give-peace-a-chance_b_72560.html