Those "creative" issues are of little concern to TV writers, most of whom enjoy greater stature in their fields. That's because television producers depend on them to provide a constant flow of scripts, as well as continuity in stories and characters, to keep audiences watching.
As a result, writers are considered the driving force in television. Top writers often serve as executive producers, creating and overseeing programs. John Wells, president of the Writers Guild's Western faction, is one of the most high-profile and successful, with such shows as "ER," "The West Wing" and "Third Watch."
Generation Gap Also Exists
In contrast, screenwriters complain that they are treated as second-class citizens--easily replaced, rewritten and frequently ignored. Movie writers do want more money when their work is sold on video and DVD, but that is of little concern to most TV writers.
About the only money issue they share is how they will be paid when their work is distributed via the Internet or new broadband technology companies that Walt Disney Co. and Sony Corp. are working on.
Generational gulfs also exist among writers. More than half its 11,500 members weren't in the guild during its costly 22-week strike in 1988, estimated to have cost the industry about $500 million.
Guild officials note that the goals of younger members can vary from those of older ones. While older members worry about the stream of residual payments they get and such issues as pension and health benefits, younger ones are concerned about such issues as how their work will be distributed using new technologies.
"Older writers are concerned about constant income from what they do. Younger writers ought to be as well. You can't leave any writers behind," said David Rintels, president of the Writers Guild in the mid-1970s.
Even more fractious are actors and the two unions, the Screen Actors Guild and the smaller sister union American Federation of Television and Radio Artists that represents soap actors, radio personalities and talk shows.
SAG's relations with AFTRA have long been strained, with the two unions failing for decades to forge a merger. SAG's ranks have swelled to nearly 100,000, in part by a decision in the early 1990s to absorb screen extras. SAG's strike against advertisers also exacerbated tensions between militant and moderate wings.
The aftermath of a 1999 coup that saw a more militant change in leaders has left SAG split into several warring camps, with e-mail chains and Web sites such as http://www.radiofreesag.com emerging to criticize current leaders.
With studios, a flurry of mergers in the late 1990s left Hollywood's prized assets in the hands of companies whose primary roots are in the Internet (AOL Time Warner), water (France's Vivendi Universal), cable TV (Viacom Inc.), newspapers (News Corp.) and electronics (Sony Corp.).
Sony and Vivendi Universal have no major broadcast network, unlike Disney with ABC, Viacom with CBS, Fox with its network and Time Warner with its fledgling WB. DreamWorks SKG and MGM are essentially movie studios. Unlike the other companies, theme parks are major parts of Disney and Universal.
General Electric's NBC, with no link to a Hollywood movie studio, has even less in common with the others. Said one NBC executive: "We have no dog in this fight."
One of the biggest internal rifts involves whether Fox should continue to enjoy paying a discount on residuals, something granted when it was a fledgling network. Fox's rivals believe it's unfair, given the network's growth and its ability to outbid other networks for the rights to major sports events such as NFL football and major league baseball. In a recent Times interview, NBC chief Robert Wright called the Fox discount "ridiculous."
Former SAG President Barry Gordon said the evolution of negotiating since the days when studio heads such as Lew Wasserman ran, and often owned, their companies has put more pressure on negotiators to find creative solutions.
"If you go from where you have a handful of studios to the situation we have now, you're going to see that diversion of interests. Does it make negotiations more challenging? Yes. Does the gridlock mean there will always be failure? I don't necessarily think so," Gordon said.