David E. Kelley is one of the most prolific screenwriters of our time. The Emmy Award-winning producer has penned such hits as L.A. Law, Ally McBeal, The Practice and Chicago Hope. The shows, known for their clever use of comedy and pathos, have won him a big following. But he’s also an outspoken critic of Hollywood’s work stoppage. He took time, which he has a lot of these days, to explain the motives in this unfolding drama to Claire Atkinson.
Q: What do you think of the writers’ strike’s impact on the TV landscape?
A: It’s terrible. Aside from the fact that there’s nothing to watch on the airwaves, it’s an economic Armageddon for everyone and all of the ancillary industries that go with it. We can only hope that the two sides will find a way to come to an agreement. The Directors Guild [of America] is about to start its negotiations, and my hope is that it can come to terms that are acceptable to the writers. That way, we can settle differences and move on. To a lot of people’s dismay and mine, the people vested with being in charge of TV don’t respect the medium. There’s a certain attitude that, "It’s just business and only television." Television is a great part of our culture, our history, and it deserves more noble treatment.
Q: Have you ever seen anything like this before in your career?
A: It’s ugly. [During the 1988 strike,] I was new to the industry, and that began to get bitter. It was over the summer when shows were on hiatus; the timing [now] is more catastrophic. Both sides need to take a step back and regroup and start over. It has to end. It’s going to be resolved; let’s try and get there sooner rather than later.
Q: What is the argument writers have about why they should be paid for online rights?
A: It’s a matter of common sense. If people are going to work, they have to be paid. When there are new-media outlets, there should be business models that accommodate the writers.
Q: How are writers paid for online work now?
A: Minimally. I think a lot of the initial streaming was done with no business model. There’s a great deal of disagreement over what the formula should be.
Q: Is the season just a complete write-off?
A: I try to be an optimist, and I still believe we are going to resurrect the rest of the season. It’s in everybody’s interest to do so. To the extent egos are getting in the way, it’s unfortunate and unacceptable.
Q: How are the entertainment presidents at the broadcast networks dealing with it?
A: I’m ill-equipped to speak as to what goes on behind the veil, but this has been a failure on all sides. There’s no other way to put it. I’m sure they’re concerned.
Q: What are you working on right now?
A: We’re all pens-down for now. I have a bunch of projects all on ice; I’m itching to get back to work. I’m playing a lot of cribbage on the desktop. I’m being beaten and humiliated by a computer.
For full coverage of the strike, click here.