Author Spotlight: Cynthia Littleton

Book: TV on Strike: Why Hollywood Went to War over the Internet

Cynthia Littleton is deputy editor at Variety and coauthor of Season Finale: The Unexpected Rise and Fall of the WB and UPN.  Her new, fall 2012 title TV on Strike: Why Hollywood Went to War over the Internet is in the SU Press Television and Popular Culture series and has received wonderful reviews. Friday, November 16th Littleton discussed her new book on the Late Late Show with Craig Ferguson.  Watch here.

TV on Strike comes out at the end of the year and is now available for pre-order at the Syracuse University Press website.

Briefly tell us about TV on Strike: Why Hollywood Went to War over the Internet.

“The book looks at the upheaval in the television business during the past decade through the prism of the 100-day strike by the Writers Guild of America in late 2007-early 2008. The strike was a fight about many of the issues that are roiling Hollywood – digital distribution, changing viewer behavior, competition from lower-cost entertainment alternatives and shrinking margins in traditional profit centers. I realized about a month after the strike ended that the story of the conflict, and the colorful characters who drove it, provided the perfect framework to examine what would otherwise be an unwieldy subject, namely the transformation of the television business.”

As a deputy editor at Variety and an author, has the digital transition you discuss in your book affected your life in any way? How?

Uh – yes. My day job has changed immensely with the mandate to stay on top of news 24/7 on the Web. Now reporters wind up writing every breaking news story at least two or three times. You write the bare-bones version to post immediately on the web. Then you flesh that out a little bit more – maybe two or three more write-throughs depending on the magnitude of the story. And then you turn around and write a version for the print edition the next day. You wind up doing what journalist call a “second day lead” even on the first print edition of the story. You can’t just put in print the same story you posted online the day before if you want to give readers an incentive to read the paper. It’s monstrously complicated, and on the business side, there has been much trial and error in determining the best way to ensure that journalistic content is properly monetized. It’s tough!”

What did you find most shocking about the labor dispute of 2007?

“The lack of communication and outreach from both labor and management in the run-up to the contract negotiations. I believe the Hollywood studios were remiss in not proactively addressing some compensation issues that they knew would be flashpoints for writers. This was a time when the industry needed executive leadership, but for various reasons, it didn’t happen.”

What was your main source of information for research?

“My own first-hand reporting on the strike – I spent a lot of time walking in picket lines outside studio gates between Nov. 2007-Feb. 2008 – and my own reporting on the changing nature of the television business. I also relied heavily on the good work of my colleagues at Variety and other media outlets. After the fact, I did a lot of lengthy interviews with key players who took time to reflect on the strike experience. Some of them were very candid, even about their own shortcomings, and I’m very grateful to them.”

What was the most challenging obstacle you encountered while writing TV on Strike?

“There were a few people connected to the Writers Guild that I hoped to interview at length to get their perspective on the strike, but they declined to participate even after multiple appeals bordering on begging. One person in particular I nearly tackled at an industry awards show, but I couldn’t convince him.”

What book(s) are you reading now?

“Lately I’ve been reading a lot of Sherlock Holmes stories and novels. Really enjoy those intricate mysteries. Over the summer I read Thackeray’s “Vanity Fair” and thoroughly enjoyed it.”

Is there a famous individual you’ve looked up to as a role model throughout your life?

“I have always admired Linda Ellerbee, in her various news anchor incarnations. When I was a kid I wanted to grow up to be some combination of Jack Kerouac, Andy Warhol, Truman Capote and Patti Smith. More recently, as a member of the Unitarian faith, I have come to idolize Abigail Adams.”

What can we expect from you next?

“Finishing “TV on Strike” was a long and hard process. I’m looking forward to a long period of having my nights free to reacquaint myself with my husband. But I admit I have been nursing an idea for novel…”

“Every day Cynthia shows us how smart and well informed she is with her reporting. What we didn’t know is just how compelling a storyteller she is! If you are in the entertainment industry or aspire to be this book is a MUST READ page turner. The players come to life and the events of the Writer’s strike provide the prism for Cynthia’s explanation of how the entire entertainment eco-system really works. In the lightning fast constantly changing entertainment universe this book helps us to understand ‘why’ and ‘how’ it is all happening. Bravo Cynthia!” —Warren Littlefield, TV producer, past President NBC Entertainment

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