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David Mandel isn’t one to sugarcoat. It’s a trait that appears in his work, from the vicious insults of “Veep” to the intentionally reprehensible characters at the center of HBO’s “White House Plumbers.” It also emerged when TheWrap asked the longtime series creator his thoughts on the currently unfolding WGA strike.
“I have no good answer, except to say, I think it’s going to be long and bloody, and it’s going to suck,” Mandel said.
Mandel, who is currently 52 years old, emphasized that he’s been working in Hollywood for a long time but the current state of the industry “doesn’t make sense” to him. His IMDb page reads like a collection of comedy’s greatest hits — “Seinfeld” in the ’90s, the cult hit “EuroTrip” in the 2000s, “Curb Your Enthusiasm” and “Veep” in the 2010s and over 60 episodes of “Saturday Night Live” over the course of three decades. And yet Mandel has noticed that “in the last two years, even” his contemporaries have struggled.
“I’m not talking about COVID. I’m talking the changes are not working,” Mandel said. “They are scrounging for jobs in a way that doesn’t make sense to me. I don’t know what else to say. It does not make sense.”
Mandel has heard leadership say they’re trying to turn writing into more of a “gig economy.”
“It makes perfect sense because these are no longer studios. These are studios that are pieces of giant corporations. And giant corporations, since the heyday Jack Welch ’80s, have basically decided to maximize profits by basically outsourcing anything and everything that you humanly can,” Mandel said.
“They devalue research, they devalue R&D, and that’s what we are. We’re research. We’re the new product. We’re R&D. They don’t value us. They don’t care. They worry about stock prices and debt sheets,” Mandel said. “And the irony is that their debt sheets and their stock prices are in the toilet because they’ve made business decisions like, ‘Hey, let’s get rid of the cable money and go all in on streaming.’ I did not tell them to do that. I don’t remember the writers getting consulted on that. So when these guys are at the bargaining table pleading poverty based on their own terrible decision-making — they’re never going to admit they messed up their own businesses. And now they’re trying to take it out on the writers.”
Mandel also briefly touched upon one of the most nerve-wracking parts of this strike: the threat of AI.
“When the Writers Guild says to them, ‘Hey, we want to talk about AI’ and they go, ‘Oh, my God, no, there’s nothing to see here,’ you start to go, ‘Oh, man, they’ve got weird plans for AI and replacing all of us,’” Mandel said before concluding that he thinks the strike is going to be “bad” and “long.”
On Tuesday, the WGA started its strike following weeks of failed negotiations between the Writers’ Guild and the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers (AMPTP). This marks the first WGA strike in 15 years since 2007’s 100-day strike. There is a laundry list of concerns at the center of this strike, from the rise of professionally stifling mini-rooms to fears about artificial intelligence. But more than anything else, the strike is a response to the major ways Hollywood has changed in the age of streaming.
Truncated seasons and the rise of miniseries have resulted in fewer opportunities for newer writers to climb the professional ladder. Meanwhile, streaming shows have all but eliminated residuals — paychecks writers often depend on to survive — and the lack of viewer transparency from these companies has wounded writers’ bargaining power.
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