Wednesday, April 15, 2015

"License For Larceny?"

On occasion, I used to take home typing paper from Universal Studios, sometimes for studio-related purposes and sometimes – a more typical “sometimes” – for not.

I stole paper from Universal Studios – and pens, and a ruler and possibly a wastepaper basket – is what I’m confessing.  And frankly, I never felt overly terrible about it. 


Because Universal Studios was stealing from me.  

Today is “Taxpaying Day”, which I shall get to in a minute, hopefully tying the two situations together, though writing’s an uncertain business and I may possibly miss the connection. 

Anyway, here we go.

Recently, I received my annual “Statement of Accounting” from Universal Studios concerning Major Dad, my only show to have gone into syndication and was, therefore, still accumulating income. 

I receive this annual statement, because I am a Major Dad profit participant – my “Contract Type” designated:  “Modified Gross”, which means that if the show ever goes into “profit”, the studio modifies the gross to make it look like it didn’t. 

Sorry, I am getting ahead of myself.   

And, arguably, misrepresenting the specifics. 

If not the actual consequences.

Included in my annual “Statement of Accounting” is a record, listed alphabetically by country, of the residual income compiled from selling Major Dad reruns to each of those individual countries.  The list reports, for example, that since the inception of its syndication run in 1994, Major Dad has earned 84 (U.S.) dollars in Austria.  (Barely four dollars a year.)

Major Dad did considerably better in other countries – it took in 3900 (U.S.) dollars in Bangladesh.  The bottom line here is that there are still no profits payable to me.  Why?  Because Major Dad remains 4,408,923 (U.S.) dollars in the red. 

Thank you, Austria.  (I mean, it’s a military show.  You like that stuff, don’t you?)

Is Universal Studio’s accounting system honest?  I have no idea.  Nor does anybody else (other than the “Accounting Department” at Universal Studios.)  Why?  Because, to my knowledge, no studio, when challenged, either by lawsuit or union strike, has ever opened its books – fearing exposure of their procedures to public scrutiny and immediate arrest – promulgating the oft-shouted anti-studio mantra (which I just made up):

“No transparency - no trust.”

Before distributing any profits – which I will never see from Major Dad – a series must first recoup its accumulated losses.  There are expenses related to producing a television series, and it is entirely justifiable for the bankroller of the series – Universal Studios, in this case – to be reimbursed for those expenses before the remaining revenues can be distributed as profits.

The thing is, beyond paying the talent – the cast, the director, the production participants – the services for producing Universal Studio’s Major Dad were provided unilaterally by…

Universal Studios.

The studio was literally paying itself.

Is what I am telling you.

Which should at least make you go, “Hm.”

And what was the show paying for?

Well, understandable expenses, such as for soundstage rentals and technical equipment.  But for other services as well.  For example, I once noticed, as I skimmed Major Dad’s budget – a not insubstantial per-episode payment for the services of Universal Studios’ fully equipped, on-the-premises fire department. 

I worked at Universal Studios for more than eight-and-a-half years.  The only fire I ever recall was the one that, I was informed by a reliable source, the studio itself had arranged for, increasing the lot’s parking availabilities, while collecting the insurance benefits from the fire.  

It did not matter.  Major Dad was still charged for it.

Or at least a percentage of it.

And I am only scratching the surface.

How did I retaliate?  In a reasonable and appropriate manner.

I stole paper… and possibly a thermos.

Now, before we run out of time…

One thing I believe both conservatives and liberals in this country agree about:

The government wastes our tax dollars.  (An inevitable consequence when people are not spending their own money.  Hey, it’s not coming out of their pockets.)

Well, Parenthesis Person, some of it, in fact, is.  When they pay their own taxes.

The common denominator here, studio and government:

They are both taking our money.

Via questionable accounting methods or via increased taxation needed to procure an astronomically expensive toilet seats.  (Or hugely costly maritime materiel to combat terrorists who are entirely lacking a navy.)

The response to these outrages:

You privately protest.

You take home stationery supplies … and possibly a bulletin board.

You get “imaginative” with your taxes.  (NOTE TO I.R.S.:  Not me, but I’ve heard about it.)

Are these exhibitions of personal rebellion legitimate?

They are not.

Are they understandable?




Anonymous said...

Hi Earl,
I don't post much but thought you would enjoy this article about Modern Family.

Backs up your theory on successful sitcoms I reckon.

canda said...

They probably bundle your show overseas with other Universal shows, some less popular, and force those countries to buy everything...but they divide the sales price equally, even if the countries they sell to like your show more.

They likely charge an enormous sales commission (upward of 40% in some cases), then charge you for any expenses when they send people out to sell it. That means it's over and above their sales fee, which is excessive already.

If I'm not mistaken, MAJOR DAD ran on the USA Network, which was owned by Universal, so I'm sure they gave themselves a sweetheart deal on the sales price.

Briscoe said...

MD is still running on, that is 4 seasons, except for episode 3 of season 1 (is that an oddity?). Do you get anything for the Hulu run or is that figured into the aforementioned larceny?