Writers make a lot less money in comparison to directors and actors than they used to. And the less money you make on a project, the less control you can exert over the creative process.
And I think it’s safe to argue that, in general, the more control writers have on a project, the better it generally turns out. (By better, I mean both commercially and artistically.)
The importance of writers in TV is, I think, self-evident. They trump everyone else (except the showrunner, but on good shows, the showrunner is normally a writer, too) in terms of their contributions to the success or failure of the finished product. . .
Actors are quarterbacks, directors are running backs, and writers are offensive linemen. That’s about how they contribute to the product, and how they’re paid. And just like it was a welcome change when left tackles finally started being compensated more closely to their value a few years back, I think we should be happy to see writers moved a tiny bit closer to their real value.
His whole post is worth reading…the analogy isn’t perfect in terms of market structure: writers have more of a free market than NFL linemen had pre-free-agency, but as Last notes in the comments, the market they have is not the most effective one, given the stranglehold a handful of consumers (i.e., network heads) have on the decision to hire them.
As Last notes, writers bring a large marginal value to the table: it’s far more common to see TV shows fail for bad writing than for bad acting, so improving the writing can dramatically improve the expected return on investment on a show (unless the show’s concept is so bad as to be beyond salvage by any writer). That’s partly a function of an inefficient market (i.e., inability to identify the best writers, as compared to a relatively efficient market for locating good actors), possibly partly a scarcity-of-quality issue, and partly that – unlike novelists or movie writers – TV writers are signed in advance of turning out multiple stories, so the network heads may not want to pay in advance without assurances that a given writer will produce consistently good work.
The problem with writers not getting their due in terms of their marginal value to the projects they work on is, I would guess, the combination of the first and third points: networks don’t have – or don’t feel they have – a really good system for telling the difference between good and bad writers, and lack confidence that today’s good writer will continue to churn out quality tomorrow. At least, that’s my speculation. Because if the networks really did believe they could measure the difference between good writers and bad ones there would be a very big marginal investment return to be made by expanding your writing budget to snag the best ones.