The TV diet

It's been nearly three months since the writers went on strike. The TIVO broke a month into it, and no one in my house has bothered to fix it. We watched the last episode of "House," and that was that. We've seen all the "Law and Order: SVU's," given up on "Grey's Anatomy," and the big TV has pretty much turned into a dust collector. I watch the news now and then, although mostly I read it on my computer, and we rent movies now and then. But if television were the main cost on my electric bill (unfortunately, it isn't), I'd be saving money big time.

There was a guy who recently got banned from the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas because he had a device that could turn off any TV and he kept using it. In my house, it would be mighty useless.

Some years ago, my kids' school sponsored one of those "Turn Off Your Television" weeks, and it caused an uproar among both parents and kids. Some of the parents were mad because they worked in the television business, gave a lot of money to the school and thought it was an affront to them and to their profession (if you call it that) to be singled out as a negative influence in modern family life. The kids were upset because they didn't know how they'd survive. Turns out, it's a lot easier than any of us would have thought.

Easier on us as viewers, that is.

Last week's canceled Golden Globes extravaganza was not much missed. We lived without seeing the Hollywood Foreign Press Association &

a group that is much mocked the other 51 weeks of the year &

take center stage for a night of celebrity hobnobbing. And if anyone cared about who won, without the dresses and the missteps, they were free to read about it. If need be, we'll live without the Oscars, as well &

which, if you live in Los Angeles, is really the night of 10,000 limousines, the night you get to see how many of your neighbors you've never met have cars parked outside their houses at — in the afternoon, waiting to head into gridlock.

The real problem with the strike is not the forced entertainment diet, which might actually be good for us, but the increasingly damaging impact it's having on the economy, and on the people from every walk of life who depend on the entertainment business for their livelihoods.

From the number of people in this town who are forever working on screenplays (one old trick was to station a television camera at a busy corner with a reporter asking each passerby how their screenplay was coming, a question to which almost every passerby responded), you'd think being a writer was a ticket to millions. But it's more often a ticket to unemployment and insecurity.

Almost half of the members of the Writers Guild of America, West &

46 percent &

did not work as writers last year. Among the 54 percent who did, 25 percent made less than $37,700 and 50 percent made less than $105,000. Over a five-year period of employment and unemployment, the average income for a Guild writer is $62,000 per year. Maybe someone should tell that to all the people working on screenplays.

Of course, it isn't just the writers who suffer when shows close down and production is canceled. If writers don't work, actors don't work, and cameramen and women don't work, and grips and electricians and carpenters don't work; if those people don't work, the people who feed them, the caterers, don't work, and the transportation people have no one and nothing to transport, and the location scouts have no locations to scout, and the designers have nothing to design, and the makeup people have no one to make up, and so it goes. There is a chain of work and workers that makes up the business of Hollywood, and right now the chain is broken and has been for nearly three months.

The presidential campaign is about to arrive in what we call the Golden State. When they come, they will find that home prices, most people's biggest asset, are falling, and unemployment and insecurity are growing. Six months ago, the big issue here was the war. Now, it's the strike. And it is very much a middle class issue. We can live without our soaps and dramas and comedies, but we cannot live without an industry that is vital to our economic well-being. It's not clear that presidential candidates can do very much about that, but they will surely be asked.

To find out more about Susan Estrich and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at .

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