THE STRESS TEST

First they shave enough of your chest to stick on eight additional nipples (only these are metal), to which wires will later be snapped as if you were an amplifier feeding the examining room’s surround-sound speakers.

‘No one told me anything about chest-shaving,’ I said, not thrilled, listening to Chapter 61 of David Baldacci’s The Collectors on my iPhone (which I’ve decided I really like).

Then someone else comes to hook up an I.V. in the back of your hand, through which to inject a nuclear isotope.

‘No one told me anything about an I.V.,’ I said, my blood pressure reaching 130 over 84, trying to concentrate on Jerry Bagger, who had just had one of his goons throw the hooker out the window of Tony’s hotel room.

Then, once you’ve got the Geiger Counter all staticky, the doctor comes in and starts the treadmill at a gentle incline, ramps up the speed a bit, then a bit more, all the while watching the little earthquake printout they call an E.K.G.

Then you go with a lab tech to lie under some kind of machine that takes 12 minutes of pictures of your radioactive heart, during which Oliver and Annabelle (who has no idea Bagger has caught up with Tony and now knows her identity) abduct Trent to exchange for Shaw (all the while planning to retrieve Trent so that he might be hanged for treason).

Then – if you’re lucky, as I was – the doctor comes back and tells you you have the heart of a 20-year old, takes your blood pressure one more time (100 over 60), and sends you on your way.

Before I left, we spent a minute discussing stress, and he imparted a bit of medical wisdom I had not heard before: ‘Really, it’s not what you eat that matters so much as what’s eating you.’

THE WRITERS’ STRIKE

How many times can you watch the ‘big salad’ episode of Seinfeld? (Answer: 14. After that, it begins to get old.) I really, really want this strike to end.

Yet the current betting, according to a couple of folks on the edges of the negotiation whom we met over New Year’s, is . . . June. That’s when the actors might go on strike too, and management will really get serious about coming to terms.

Yesterday, I suggested that income inequality, if it got out of hand, could be a bad thing; but that just how wide that inequality had to be to be ‘out of hand’ was open to legitimate debate.

Picking up on that prelude . . .

Andy Long: ‘I have to admit I cringe every time I hear or read about someone talk about economic fairness. In the entire history of the world, there has probably been no more than 15 or 20 minutes of economic fairness. Total. ‘Fairness’ is a euphemism for ‘I want more of your money.’ If the writers want a bigger piece of the future pie, fine but it’s not a question of fairness, it’s a question of coming to an agreement about a price at which they are willing to provide their labor and the price that management is willing to pay for it. As for the fairness or unfairness of the expired agreement, my basic position is that if writers thought the prior agreement was fair when they signed it (and I assume they did, no one forced them to sign it [except that maybe their rent was due or their kids needed to eat? – A.T.]) then that agreement was fair throughout its life, regardless of how it turned out. Finally, isn’t it amazing how often the writers bring up Fraser, I Love Lucy and Everybody Loves Raymond. Nobody ever brings up I Dream of Sheldon or My Favorite Cockroach or any of the other unsuccessful shows where the writers got paid for the script and the producers made zero. How many writers have offered to return their fees when a pilot crapped out? I understand that writers are angry that they are the lowest rung on the movie/TV show ladder but that’s because they’re the most easily replaced.’

Chris: Petersen: ‘I don’t know how to feel about the writer’s strike. At least Ken Levine gets 19 cents from American Airlines. I design products for a living. When my products are sold and used, I get nothing. There are plenty of people out there that get nothing when their work is used. So I don’t feel that Ken or the other writers are entitled to payments long after they have finished their job unless they have assumed financial risk.’

Jeff Cox: ‘While granting that 19 cents is a ridiculously small check for anything and also granting that Mr. Levine wrote television that is better than most, the overall quality of television is so bad that I would still favor leaving the writers on strike forever.’

Hats off to (writer) James Surowiecki of The New Yorker for this lucid perspective on the writer’s strike – and the dynamics of strikes generally. It concludes:

. . . [S]trikes . . . often turn more on questions of fairness than on strict economics. Fairness doesn’t matter much in conventional economics, which assumes that, if you and I can make a deal leaving us both better off, we’ll make it. But, in the real world, if the deal seems unfair to me I may very well reject it, even if doing so leaves me worse off. The quintessential example of this is the so-called ultimatum game, where participants offered a share of a ten-dollar bill by a fellow-participant will actually turn down the free money if they think their share isn’t big enough. In the same way, a capuchin monkey who’s being rewarded for working with another monkey will often refuse to participate if she sees her partner get a better reward. And in a series of experiments run by the economists Simon Gaechter and Ernst Fehr people prove willing to pay in order to punish those who act unfairly. Readiness to pay a price in order to enforce an idea of what is right is part of what keeps sides from settling: writers accept the loss of paychecks because they believe they deserve a cut of the revenue from their work, and producers accept the loss of business because they believe that TV shows and movies are their property. The paychecks and the profit-and-loss statements may indicate that the writers and the producers should be able to resolve their dispute quickly. But in labor relations the bottom line isn’t always the bottom line.

☞ Remember Michael Ovitz, who left Disney after a year with a $140 million settlement a few years ago? Well, management and boards of directors understand: talent is expensive. His contract was the product of a negotiation. That’s all the writers are doing, and for what I would guess will amount to a lot less than $140 million for all of them combined.

(As I understand it, the writers want 2.5% of the income from Internet downloads of their stuff, leaving 97.5% for everyone else.)

Some believe there is a certain talent required in writing a TV show capable of delighting millions of people – not that anyone would argue it rises to the level of talent you’ll find in the executive suite. Arguably, the writers are doing no more or less than Ovitz did in negotiating his contract with Disney; and Disney, et al, should be just as tough in looking out for the shareholders’ interest as they were in negotiating Ovitz’s contract. Which I would argue was not so very tough at all.

 

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