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George Hertzberg

George Hertzberg is featured on the Pepperdine Writer’s Strike Survey

Monday 19 November 2007, by Webmaster

Majority of Americans think writers deserve largest share of royalty payments, survey finds

For writer/actor George Hertzberg, a Pepperdine MBA graduate best known for the recurring role of the cyborg Adam on "Buffy the Vampire Slayer," the three months leading up to the breakdown in negotiations between studios and Hollywood TV and film writers were filled with longer than typical hours. Producers rushed to build a backlog of completed scripts and pushed to shoot as much as possible. Mandatory Friday shoots wrapped as late as 2 a.m., effectively destroying Saturdays at home for all production members because they were exhausted and needed to prep for Monday and the next week’s grueling production schedule.

Hertzberg says that studios are willing to pay overtime for the continued interest and dollars that dedicated audiences bring. Producers fear losing traction with the viewing public.

"They view all but the top .05-percent of writers and actors as replaceable," he says. Because of this, most writers and performers are at the beck and call of producers. "We all want to work, but we also want to be compensated for our work."

Compensation is at the heart of the labor dispute.

In November, TV and film writers took to the picket line in a bid for a larger share of royalties earned from the download of entertainment content on the Internet and mobile devices, as well as from DVD sales. In a survey investigating how consumers feel about the writer’s strike, Pepperdine University’s Graziadio School of Business and Management found that 63 percent of American consumers polled side with writers.

In fact, between writers, actors, producers and directors, more Americans (47 percent) think writers deserve the largest share of the royalty payments when TV shows and films are sold. About half of those surveyed, 26-percent and 25-percent respectively, think actors and producers warrant the majority of royalties, while only 2-percent thought the same of directors.

"It is not uncommon for the public to be sympathetic toward the side striking in a labor disrupt," said David Smith, a labor economist and associate dean of academic affairs at the Graziadio School. "However, it is somewhat surprising to see overwhelming support from Americans for the creative side of the industry."

"Public sentiment plus the economic disruption that the strike has caused can serve as powerful leverage and bodes well for writers in ongoing negotiations. It will be interesting to see how the writers move next," Smith said.

The Graziadio School surveyed 1,000 adult Americans in an online study by market research firm Synovate, November 7-9, 2007; the week after negotiations between studios and Hollywood film and TV writers broke down.

"This is an important issue to the entertainment industry and a very important one to the hundreds of Pepperdine alumni working in the industry," said Linda A. Livingstone, dean of the Graziadio School.

Hertzberg illustrates the stakes for Hollywood writers this way, "I have a great friend of 16 years who has written over 15 animation scripts for a major studio and she’s made less than $45,000 without residuals. She has another job that helps support her and her son."

Hertzberg says that without the residuals from DVD movies, TV shows and new media, writers like his friend will continue to struggle to make ends meet. "It’s a mess that’s been a long time in coming," he says.

More than four out of five respondents (84 percent) reported they were aware of the writers’ strike. Only 13-percent reported not to know about the strike and 2-percent were uncertain. News coverage has succeeded in delivering the writers’ disputes into American home. But, is the amount of press about the strike and its potential impact causing viewers to lose sleep over the plight of their favorite TV show?

Most Americans are not terribly concerned about the prospect of a writers’ strike reducing their entertainment choices. Only one in five or 16-percent are concerned, with 5 percent very concerned. By contrast, three-fourths (75-percent) have relatively little concern, with four in ten (39-percent) not concerned at all.

When asked about the prospect of reruns replacing new shows because of the strike, more than four out of ten respondents (42-percent) said they would read more. Nearly as many respondents (40-percent) said they would watch reruns or turn to other types of programming, including news, sports and documentary programmers such as The Discovery Channel or History Channel.

Almost as many Americans said they would spend more time watching rented movies (38-percent) or spend more time on the Internet (35-percent).

"If the strike becomes protracted, the danger for both writers and producers is that viewer habits may change permanently and audiences may not return when the new episodes of their favorite TV shows return," said Smith.

"Grocery strikes in Southern California resulted in similar behavioral changes," Smith cites. "Some longtime Vons, Ralphs and Albertsons patrons grew accustomed to shopping at other venues and continued to do so after negotiations were settled."