Meet The Scabs

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Monday, November 12, 2007, 4:27 p.m.
Hi! What series would I be scabbing for?

Monday, November 12, 2007, 5:12 p.m.
Hello: I am a scab.
But I’m funny.
Please send more details about this opportunity.
Don’t pick on me.
I am a scab.

Monday, November 12, 2007, 5:13 p.m.
Hi, I’m a comedy writer interested in learning more about your needs. Can I do it anonymously so I don’t get in trouble with the WGA or anyone else for that matter?

Monday, November 12, 2007, 8:21 p.m.
We’re writers of a number of comedies, including independent films, original screenplays and sitcoms….don’t feel sorry for the WGA writers one bit….thanks.

Monday, November 12, 2007, 8:43 p.m.
I will be a scab.

Those emails, and more than 75 others, clogged a gmail inbox shortly after 3:41 p.m.on Monday, when we posted the following job opportunity on Craigslist:


Network television situation comedy seeks non-WGA humor writers to write scripts for weekly network series during the current strike.
Salary negotiable.

The purpose of the posting was simple: we wanted to meet the scabs, the men and women waiting—with naked and immoral ambition coursing through their veins—to replace the 12,000 members of the Writers Guild of America currently on strike against the television and movie industry. That strike, which began on November 5 and may last months, was intended to cripple the networks and studios, and halt production on movies and television shows. The strike’s goal is to force Hollywood to reformulate the equation of residuals paid to writers.

Could the companies actually hire these desperate writers to fill the hundreds of vacant slots on sitcoms and dramas currently in production? Hard to say, given the adversarial climate surrounding the strike.

But it’s clear from the overwhelming response to our Craigslist ad that there’s no shortage of writers ready, willing and able to step into the breach left by striking WGA members.

The ad itself reeked of bogus intent, and that was intentional. What broadcast network would turn to Craiglist to discover fresh talent to write its slate of situation comedies? Even The CW has higher standards than that.

In posting an ad so obviously phony and so clearly designed to entice writers willing to cross a picket line, we wanted to measure the lengths to which ambition might alter the attitudes of otherwise well-meaning writers.

Would they willingly take jobs that would potentially hurt the cause of the strike?

Would they eagerly apply for a position on an unnamed show for an anonymous network advertised on the equivalent on a bulletin board?

Would they try to impress their would-be employer with sad, silly attempts at humor and overreaching representations of their work experience?

Yes, yes, and yes.

The first email arrived at 4:15 p.m., only 34 minutes after the post went up on Monday afternoon. The second came at 4:22 p.m. By 6:15 p.m., more than two dozen had come in. By midnight, nearly 30. As of noon on Tuesday, 80 potential writers had come forward to apply for the non-existent, non-union job.

To be fair, not all emailers seemed completely aware of the malevolent nature of the mission:

Monday, November 12, 8:49 p.m.
Hi, Do you require that the person is living in NY/USA? I do not live in the USA. Currently I live in Asia. I am interested in the sitcom writers job if I can do it over the Internet. I await your reply.

Others were fishing for facts, like this:

Monday, November 12, 2007, 9:16 p.m.
i’m not associted [sic] with the WGA….
who are you? information from you gets you information from me.

But most seemed quite willing—anxious, even—to volunteer information, resumes, and often self-congratulatory testimonials to their comedy skills:

Monday, November 12, 2007, 5:47 p.m.
Hello, Let me cut to the chase, my name is [REDACTED] and I am damn fine writer…

Monday, November 12,. 2007, 7:43 p.m.
Hi There, My name is [REDACTED] and I am a cracker-jack comedy writer with a warm, collaborative style… Personally, I enjoy traveling, long walks on the beach, harrowing weather, Dexter, and clams on the half and peppermint chicklets.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007, 10:43 a.m.
Hello, My name is [REDACTED]….I am a [REDACTED]. I am also a capable writer. I watched the strike in person and those people aren’t funny. I currently make $300-$500 a day so pay would have to be in that range….My wife has her masters degree so that means I’m smart!!!

Tuesday, November 13, 2007, 1:41 p.m.
To Whom It May Concern,
I am very interested in writing for your television network. I have an imagination that stretches extremely wide, my writing has a stylish edge to it and my wit can knife right through you.

Sounds painful.
By late Monday evening least one applicant had regained her conscience, having applied only hours earlier for the phantom job:

Monday, November 12, 2007, 11:25 p.m.
Hi – I’ve been haunted all day by my response to your ad – even if you would contact little ol’ me, I just can’t do it! I have to support the guild writers! Good luck with your show.

Good for you! But you don’t have quite the moral high ground of [REDACTED], who wrote us this email under the heading “Does the word SCAB mean anything to you?”

Monday, November 12, 2007, 6:01 p.m.
Yes, please, let me get blacklisted before I even start, that’d be awesome.

On Tuesday morning, we checked in with a couple of our correspondents—to reveal ourselves and to find out what motivated their willingness to cross a union picket line in search of sitcom work. Naturally, the writers we reached requested anonymity, and professed to know all along that the job offer was phony. One expressed mixed emotions about having applied—“I just wanted to see what would happen,” she said, with a twinge of embarrassment—while the other felt strongly that the WGA has an unfair stranglehold over jobs in the television industry.

“If the union doesn’t take every single person who wants to be a writer, then why should writer who aren’t in the union have to comply with the union’s restrictions and rules?” asked one applicant, after we explained our ruse, and inquired about his motivations. “You’re not born union….all of a sudden you don’t just come out of grad school and say, ‘Hey, you know what? I’m in the union.’”

So has the WGA become outmoded?

“No, I mean it’s just like anything else,” he explained. “Everybody’s out there to cover their own ass.”

Can it happen here? Could a network conceivably do what we did, and follow up with job offers to qualified non-union workers? The short answer is yes. There’s ample historical precedent to suggest that struck companies could, and would, hire non-union workers to temporarily fill union jobs; it’s legal and commonplace.

But would the networks and cable companies seriously consider casting a net for candidates from the vast pool of untapped comedy talent out there? No one knows, and few have yet begun to seriously think about the possibility.

“It’s a typical management tactic,” says Ann Toback, assistant executive director of the WGA East. “Legally, they can hire replacement workers. But there is a history of our membership standing strong. If non-members perform the work of members, then we can take steps to keep them from ever working again, once the strike is settled.”

Besides, Toback argues, WGA writers have unique qualifications for the work they do on television shows. “Our members can’t be replaced,” she says. “They bring their own enormous skill sets to their jobs. You can’t just go out and hire comedy writers off the street.”

But Toback acknowledges that the networks could camouflage the identities of scab writers; there’s no requirement that they get credit for their work, and in all likelihood anyone who crosses the WGA picket line would do so with the promise of anonymity. Given the response we got to our ad—and the explosion of comedy talent now available among comedians, bloggers and humor websites—it would seem simple for the networks to find at least a few gifted comedy writers to temporarily fill the available slots, and to keep their identities secret.

What happens then?

“We’ll find out who they are,” Toback vows. “It’s too small an industry to hide.”

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