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No mincing words: Writers right

For a battle involving wordsmiths, the Writers Guild of America strike is ironically all about the math.

Two weeks ago, the unionized writers from TV and film went on strike when contract negations with the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers stalled. While the details are complicated, the core issues are pretty simple.

It basically boils down to this: the Internet.

Writers want to get paid when their work appears on it, and producers would rather they not.

You see, writers get paid residuals -- a set percentage -- each time something they wrote airs on TV or is purchased on DVD. Since TV writing is usually seasonal and often fleeting, many scribes rely on residuals to live during their stretches of downtime.

Writers' residuals fall into two categories, TV airings and DVD sales. At issue are residuals from new media, i.e. online streams and downloads.

Right now, writers get $0.0 for online content. Yes, zero. Nothing. Nada. Zip. Zilch.

What they want is anything more than zero when their work is viewed online.

The producers, however, are claiming that all Internet downloads and sales are "promotional" and therefore the writers shouldn't be paid for them.

Uh, if a full episode is a promo, what does that make the paid advertising the studio plays either before or during each online episode? Promos of promos? Will we have to start talking about online episodes differently?

"Man, I watched the latest promo of '30 Rock' online last night and I laughed all 30 minutes. They deserve that Emmy for writing such funny promos week after week. Tina Fey is a great promo writer."

Come on, producers, these are writers we're talking about. Don't play the semantics game -- they probably have better vocabularies than you.

The writers and producers alike realize that new media is the way of the future. Someday, TV may merge entirely with the Internet. That means the battles being fought now over its profits are so important.

The online profits are out there already, and in the billions, so it seems only fair that the writers get a piece of the pie. And it's not even an unreasonably big slice at that.

Under their old contract, writers got 2.5 cents for every $1 a studio made on a televised airing and 0.3 cent for every $1 made on home video sales. Can it add up to a pretty penny? Sure. But the writer makes money only if the studio makes money.

A strike is terrible for everyone involved. The writers, the actors, the crew and us, the viewers. I shudder to think of a winter filled with only reruns and reality TV. But for me, the writers' arguments add up.

It's the Internet, stupid.

Elsewhere around the Scene:

Newly minted Modesto Area Music Association Award winner Jon Valenti is throwing a party and everyone is invited.

Valenti is celebrating the release of his debut album, "Grin & Bury It," on Saturday at the Fat Cat Music House & Lounge. Along for the fun are The Mundaze, Roem Baur, Joe Cornell and master of ceremonies Alan Sanchez from "Good Day Sacramento."

The Turlock resident's first CD features 14 tracks, which he calls "a roller coaster with emotional songs and fun, upbeat songs." Valenti won the MAMA for best unplugged (folk/acoustic) last month at the annual awards show. Show starts at 6 p.m. Tickets are $5. You can also watch a live Webcast of the show at justin.tv/jon_valenti. Call 524-1400. ...

Modesto native and "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" alum James Marsters is a busy man these days.

The Davis High School graduate has signed on to star in the new live-action adaptation of the popular manga "Dragonball." Justin Chatwin will star as the hero, while Marsters will play the villain in the sci-fi adventure to be directed by James Wong.

The manga adventure gained massive popularity in the United States as the animated series "Dragon Ball Z." The film is slated for release next summer. ...

If you're looking for a laugh catch Geechy Guy at the State Theatre tonight. The funnyman is a regular guest on the syndicated radio show "Bob & Tom." Laughs starts at 8 p.m. and tickets are $15. Call 527-4697. ...

And finally, don't forget to catch Clint Black tonight at Turlock Community Theatre.

The country music superstar was busy with the CMA Awards last week and unable to do a phone interview with The Bee. But he sent along answers to an e-mail Q&A this week instead. Read what the man in the black hat has to say at my SceneIt blog (thehive.modbee.com/sceneit).

Bee entertainment writer Marijke Rowland can be reached at mrowland@modbee.com or 578-2284. Read her blog SceneIt at thehive.modbee.com/sceneit.

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