Hollywood disaster looms large

"After 13 years of no serious threat of [a writers'] strike and 13 years of residual formulas becoming outdated, it's like here in California on the San Andreas fault. The longer you go without having an earthquake, the more dangerous it becomes and the bigger the ultimate earthquake is going to be." - Michael Mahern, secretary treasurer of the Writers Guild of America, West, Feb. 1.

Anxiety about the possibility of a devastating strike in Hollywood this summer continues to mount. High-ranking officials at the Federal Emergency Management Administration say the US government is taking Mr. Mahern's warning seriously.

President Bush, noting the potential for "inestimamable" damage, has instructed FEMA to draw up plans for maintaining order in the event of a Hollywood writers' earthquake.

"Our first concern, as always in these kinds of tragic disasters, is to maintain public order," Bush said. "People are disoriented, they're afraid, they need to know that 'Everybody Loves Raymond.' "

The State Department issued a statement yesterday, warning Iraq and other rogue entertainment producers not to take advantage of any disruption caused by the TV writers strike.

"The United States stands ready to defend itself and 'Dawson's Creek,' " the statement said. "Those who hope to intimidate Americans in a time of crisis should remember our resolve to retain the programs that reflect our core values: the ironic social commentary 'Will & Grace,' the heart-pounding excitement of 'ER,' and the romantic escapades of 'Ally McBeal.' Is she hot or what?"

Privately, some officials wondered how the world would react to a TV shortage in the US, long considered a stable source of vampire-based dramas. A member of the Federal Reserve who spoke on condition of anonymity during a commercial break in "That '70s Show," said, "A Hollywood writers' strike has the potential to rattle the world's confidence. How will members of the European Community react to seeing grisly photos of Americans trying to cope without 'Frasier,' 'The Practice,' or even 'Friends'? We don't know, but we've got to be ready to flood the airwaves with reruns to prevent the spread of conversation, crafts, or athletics."

Wall Street was abuzz with rumors that speculators were bidding up prices for old "Starsky and Hutch" episodes, hoping to capitalize on any future shortages.

Answering the president's call for faith-based assistance, several international religious organizations have pledged to adopt Americans struggling to survive only on reality-based programming. Volunteer networks have been set up to call stranded viewers in the States and read them cover stories from back issues of TV Guide.

One radical plan under discussion is to distribute millions of small, portable devices called "books," which could be used for the purpose of temporary entertainment.

In the event of a Hollywood strike, stay tuned for this important announcement over the Emergency Broadcast System: "This is an emergency. You are the weakest link. Goodbye."

Ron Charles is the Monitor's book editor and occasional satirist.

(c) Copyright 2001. The Christian Science Monitor

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