Coming to Terms: The Strike Resolution Reality Game Show!!
Given the way that the talks to settle the writers’ strike cratered spectacularly again on Friday, it’s clear that secret negotiations aren’t getting the job done. All that’s come out of them has been a major case of “he said/she said” finger-pointing and blame and an assortment of epithets and insults reminiscent of an unmonitored playground full of rowdy five-year-olds. So here’s an idea: let’s turn the strike talks into the latest “reality” TV game show, with a twist – the object of the competition isn’t beating the other guy, but coming successfully to an agreement in which both sides, and all of us, win.
It would work like this. Both parties – the WGA and the AMPTP – would pick their teams of negotiators, who would be sequestered in a house (okay, it’s Hollywood, and we need lots of visual interest to hold viewers since the teams won’t be comprised of beautiful people, so let’s make it a gorgeous mansion) with no phones, no television, no current newspapers or magazines, and no internet access. Team members would be searched on their way in, and all wireless-enabled devices – PDA’s, cell phones, laptops, whatever – would be confiscated and held until the show was over. Non-networked computers would be provided for the teams to use. Their sole access to the outside world for the duration of the show would be a federal mediator with arbitration authority on whether any individual message went in or out. Every room (and the patio with the pool, of course) would be monitored with video cameras and microphones, with the exception of bathrooms with electronic door locks that permit only one person to be in them at a time. (Can’t have nudity and bodily functions on network television, after all, but also can’t allow cheating by letting people meet and talk anywhere outside camera and microphone range.)
The teams would roll dice to determine who got to pitch their case first: high roll wins. Each team would have a day to fully present and explain their proposal and its rationale in the boardroom in front of the cameras and the other team. Since new media plays such a major role in this whole dispute, the entire program would stream live on the internet for viewers to watch, and any documents that the teams were referring to would be available through links accessible in a crawl beneath the picture, so the viewers could read them too. News networks, cable news outlets, PBS, and the financial news magazines could run independent analyses and offer commentary for viewers to help them understand the economic impacts of the proposals and to verify the numbers being presented. Blow by blow economic commentary would be fascinating, and educational to boot.
The Rules of the Game
On day three, the game would begin in earnest. The teams would negotiate the proposals on the table, in front of the cameras. Teams could call time-outs as needed and caucus among themselves in separate rooms. Viewers would be able to watch the caucuses, but the other team would be in the dark about what went on in those private confabs, so the fairness aspect of negotiating – not knowing what your counterparts were planning, or what they actually considered to be their non-negotiable bottom line – would be preserved.
And here’s where the twists come in. This isn’t the cut-throat competition of other “reality” game shows, because the only way to win is for both teams to find a way to come to terms with each other. The longer the show goes on, the more both parties could suffer. So, here are the rules.
First: For each day beyond the first two that the show continued, a hefty fine would be assessed and paid into a fund to help the below-the-line workers who are out of jobs as a result of the strike. The fine would be apportioned between the two teams based on a score determined by combining telephone and online votes made by viewers with the professional assessment of a panel of independent judges comprised of psychologists and professional negotiators. Those votes and assessments would compare the teams on how well they were working to achieve agreement. Duplicitous tactics designed in private caucuses to stall talks, lies told in the boardroom about facts or the relative importance of contract proposal terms, intentional obstructionism, deliberate attempts made to inflame the other party, and similar practices would count against teams and lead to the instigators paying the larger share of the fine. Egregious behavior by one party could make them liable for 100% of the fine; if both parties share blame to some degree, the split would reflect that, from 50/50 to 95/5. The amount of the total fine would double with each day the show continued without an agreement being reached. The judges’ vote would be weighted in order to prevent viewer frustration with either party’s reasonable adherence to a truly essential negotiating point resulting in that party being penalized unfairly for obstructionist behavior, and also to prevent abuse of the telephone and internet voter lines by obvious ballot-stuffing on behalf of adherents of either party.
Second: Automatic penalties would be assessed for incivility. You know that cup in the office, where you have to chip in a quarter any time you swear during a meeting? Same principle, only bigger: say, a minimum thousand dollar fine for the offending team any time any one of the team members indulges in name-calling or insulting the people across the negotiating table. The fines would go into that same worker fund. And since the fine would be assessed on the team, not on the individual, and the behavior would count into the team’s total score for the day under the first rule, team members would have an incentive to police each other’s behavior.
Third: Courtesy, level-headedness, and facilitation behavior would be rewarded. Viewers and the professional judges would vote each day on which individual on each team was doing the most to actually bring the parties together, and that person would receive perks chosen to appeal to that individual’s desires, as expressed before entering the house. Gourmet dinner? Two hours to play with his/her children? A few hours apart from everyone else trapped in the mansion? The DVD movie or television show of their choice to view either alone or with others in the mansion, if they’re feeling generous? Anything apart from an outside contact that could reveal information about the other side’s strategy would be on the table as a possible reward.
Fourth: The successful conclusion of an agreement between the WGA and the AMPTP would bring the show to an end with a party for all participants and their families, at which the professional judges would present additional awards for both the team and for the individual on each team who did the most throughout the program to bring about the deal. This is meant to be a “feel good” show encouraging cooperation, not a finger-pointing exercise in divisiveness, so the celebration would explicitly not include the award of a stocking full of coal to the individuals on each team most responsible for standing in the way of agreement. Considering that they would probably have been pointed out by commentators throughout the program, however, I think it might be unlikely that they would be named to any team the next time this show had to run.
And when the writers’ strike is over, just think: the reality game show format would be ready to use for the next dispute in any industry. Heck, why stop there? For next season, why not make it Coming to Terms: The Global Warming Edition? Or even, Coming to Terms: World Peace?
Okay, so it could only work where the parties agreed to play, and simple binding arbitration would be a lot cheaper to produce, if just as unlikely to be accepted. But I’d sure rather see civility, truth, and reasonableness rewarded than keep watching backstabbing, bickering, and harm done to innocent third parties caught in the crossfire.
And for the record: I still think the writers have the far better case on the heart of their claims. For one thing, they’ve actually supported it by putting their numbers on new media right out in the open in very consistent fashion, while the AMPTP has said one thing on Wall Street and something totally different in
That is a reality show that even I would watch, and I’d be sure to cast my vote in support of anyone actually trying to come to terms.