Opinion

OPINION | Gwen Rockwood: Keep the robots in check and let human imagination fly


I miss the writers. The Writers Guild of America went on strike in early May, and it has been a creative wasteland on television ever since. Most of the shows Tom and I used to watch won't be back with new episodes this fall. Lately, we've been flipping through more than 100 channels, amazed that there are so many options yet so little we want to see.

If I see one more rerun of House Hunters, I'll go nuts. I want to hunt down that annoying suburban couple who wouldn't stop whining about a powder room painted a color they don't like. Just paint the tiny room, people! You can learn how on YouTube.

I should turn off the TV and do something useful – read a book, do some chores, or start flossing daily like I promised my dental hygienist. But old habits die hard. I grew up on TV, and I still like it.

When my brother and I were kids, we watched Three's Company, Gilligan's Island and The Beverly Hillbillies after school. We heated Chef Boyardee ravioli in the microwave and ate it in the living room using fold-out TV trays.

After dinner, we watched shows our parents liked since there was only one TV in the house. If Dad had the remote, we watched The Rockford Files, M*A*S*H, The A-Team, or MacGyver. When Mom chose the channel, we watched The Love Boat, Dallas or Dynasty. And sometimes my older brother talked Dad into watching Knight Ryder.

But on Saturday mornings, the TV was all mine. I pulled my beanbag up close so I could be front and center when it was time for Looney Tunes.

The characters and stories in those old shows feel like part of my childhood. I learned as much as I'll ever know about physics and consequences from Wile E. Coyote. Daffy Duck taught me sarcasm, and Bugs Bunny showed me it's cool to be smart and funny. But none of those characters – cartoon or human – would've had anything to say or do without their writers.

I don't know the details of the current writers' strike. But I know writers deserve a fair wage and to share in the success when they help create a hit show. According to news coverage about the strike, most studios have increased their production budgets. Yet, the average pay for writers has decreased by as much as 23 percent in the last decade. Good writers are smart enough to leave the writing industry entirely if they can't support themselves or their families. And if that happens, we all lose the great characters and shows we would've fallen in love with.

Artificial intelligence is one of the big sticking points in the negotiation. Writers don't want robots to take their jobs, but that's not the whole story. Artificial intelligence learns to create scripts by reading and mimicking the work of human writers. But those human writers aren't paid for teaching computer programs how to write. It's like having a robot cheat off your English exam so it can win an Oscar for best screenplay. Writers want new ground rules to be put in place because artificial intelligence continues to change the game so drastically.

As someone who loves characters, stories and the new worlds in which they happen, I hope the writers and studios find common ground – soon. I miss the stories that come alive in my living room. I miss laughing at the late-night show monologues (written by a team of writers) before I shuffle off to bed.

I don't want to watch a "Golden Bachelor" give out roses. I don't want to see people eat bugs on Survivor or celebrities spin the wheel for Pat Sajak. I want what only good writing and acting can deliver – the magic of the human imagination.

So, to our number-crunching friends at the Hollywood studios, could you pay the humans, please? And regulate the robots?

Because we have plenty of popcorn and hundreds of channels, but nothing fun to watch.

Gwen Rockwood is a syndicated freelance columnist. Email her at [email protected]. Her book is available on Amazon.