seldom smiles
May 2001


By Michael J. Katin, MD

We appreciate the loyalty of fans who have been checking this site every 6 hours since May 1 (and also recommend Anafranil) but there is a specific reason this column has not been posted until today.

This was, of course, to express solidarity with the members of the Writers Guild of America, who only now have a tentative contract settlement that may avert a strike which would have deprived our country of their creative efforts for months if not weeks.

We also may be envious that professionals such as the WGA members, who both interpret and even create our culture, consider that they have the right to collective bargaining and can threaten to disrupt our way of life, with untold millions of our people dependent on weekly interactions with The Sopranos, Friends, and Cheaters, and on eagerly awaited future special events such as The Mummy III and Dude, Where's My Car II. I'm sure that given the choice between access to a physician and access to television and movies the preference of most people would be easy to guess. I know what my decision would be.

But given that most professions get away with things that we can't, we might as well ask if the settlement with the Writers Guild of America can follow the pattern that we in Radiation Oncology use for being paid for our writing.

For example, there could be 5 levels of complexity, depending on the length and the number and detail of components included. James Joyce's Ulysses or Walt Whitman's Leaves of Grass could be considered level 5, while an episode of Dharma and Greg would count as level 2. This would be, of course, regardless of the fact that one episode of Dharma and Greg is experienced by more people than have ever read Ulysses or Leaves of Grass, combined. I'm sure that some writers would insist at coding all their work as level 5 and might wind up downgraded before being reimbursed. Other patterns could be followed as well. Sequels would not be able to be reimbursed as much as the original unless there had been significant time between them. Unfortunately, this would result in a higher reward for the script for Godfather III than Godfather II. Another adaptation from our experience would be illustrated by a writer contributing a monologue and then a sketch to the same television program; the lesser of these would not be able to be reimbursed at all. And, needless to say, all these prices would be set by bureaucracies representing the buyers.

Can you envision any scenario in which the Writers Guild of America would agree to this? That would be a major work of fiction.

email: mkatin@radiotherapy.com