What you need to know: Hollywood writers' strike

Writers Guild of America (WGA) writers and others strike against the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers (AMPTP) in Los Angeles on November 9,  2007.  [AP photo]

It may take a while before some of our favourite TV shows resume production, and this may cause a delay in anticipated release dates on various popular programmes.

These delays will be triggered by an ongoing impasse between Hollywood writers and studios, streaming services and networks as the writers’ strike for better terms of work.

“For the past week, writers have been picketing the headquarters of major studios including Netflix, Amazon, Warner Bros., Universal Studios, and others,” Today.com reports.

The report adds: “Protestors have been brandishing signs demanding higher wages and targeting studio executives with tongue-in-cheek messages like, ‘Give up just ONE yacht’ and ‘Pay your writers or we’ll spoil ‘Succession.’”

The writers asked for a number of changes relating to their working conditions, compensation structure, and threats to their jobs including AI. Many of their demands relate to the ways in which streaming has completely transformed the way the industry operates, as Time Magazine notes.

The New York Times reports in an explainer that the Writer’s Guild of America, which represents about 11,500 film, television, news, radio and online writers went on strike on Tuesday after contract negotiations with studios, streaming services and networks failed.

US late-night shows have already felt the pinch of the writers’ strike, as they have been temporarily cancelled.

Independent notes that Jimmy Kimmel Live!, The Tonight Show, The Daily Show and Late Night will not be airing any new episodes until an agreement is reached. In the meantime, reruns are expected to be aired instead.

“No one is entitled to a job in show business. But for those people who have a job, they are entitled to fair compensation. They are entitled to make a living. I think it’s a very reasonable demand that’s being set out by the guild. And I support those demands,” talk show host Seth Meyers said in an interview.

Hollywood Writers Strike.  [AP photo]

The report adds: “This is the first writers’ strike, and the first Hollywood strike of any kind, in 15 years. If the strike continues into the weekend, weekly sketch show Saturday Night Live, which is due to be hosted by Pete Davidson, will not proceed as normal.”

A list of the shows affected so far includes AMC Network shows, for which production has been halted, Disney + show Andor, Netflix animated series Big Mouth, Stranger Things and Cobra Kai among others.

“There’ll be a lot of reruns. There won’t be as much content. It’s a matter of weeks, not months from now, that a good consumer of this material is going to notice the drought,” Oliver Mayer, a professor of dramatic writing at the University of Southern California School of Dramatic Arts told NBC News.

What the strike means for audiences

According to Time Magazine, there’s good news and bad. The good news is that most shows will continue to be released even if there are no projects in production because there is banked content.

“During an interview about Netflix’s first quarter 2023 earnings, Netflix co-CEO Ted Sarandos said point-blank that the company ‘doesn’t want a strike’ and ‘want[s] to work really hard to make sure we can find a fair and equitable deal so we can avoid one.’ But if there is one, he said, ‘we have a large base of upcoming shows and films from around the world [and] we could probably serve our members better than most… We do have a pretty robust slate of releases to take us into a long time.’”

The report notes that shows which begin writing in May and June cannot begin to work on new seasons or series until an agreement is reached.

“Popular shows like Law & Order and Abbot Elementary will finish their seasons as, according to USA TODAY, the shows have completed writing and filming for their finale episodes. The timing of a fall TV season will depend on how long the strike lasts.”

Late-night shows are the worst hit for the time being as that are timely and base their content around current events cannot produce new episodes without a writer’s room.

Time reports on the effect of the strike on movie production: “Movies take, on average, about two to three years to produce. So while viewers will not see immediate effects of the strike on the big screen, we could begin to see them in about a year or two when movies that would be written or produced now would have been slated to release.”

If the strike persists, this could see an increase in the production of unscripted shows, like reality TV.

“Reality TV shows which aren't based on scripts could also start taking the place of scripted content.  Indeed, the WGA strike which took place 15 years ago spawned reality franchises like "The Real Housewives" and other kinds of unscripted programming,” CBS News reports.

Striking film and television writers picket outside Paramount Studios on Jan. 23, 2008, in Los Angeles. [AP photo]

The last time that Hollywood Writers were on strike was in November 2007, and it lasted until February 2008.

The Guardian notes: “The WGA last went on strike for 14 weeks beginning at the tail end of 2007, as the rapid expansion of new media and the online economy terraformed the landscape of movies and television. The stoppage had a cataclysmic effect on output as in-progress projects died on the vine, shows went haywire without the guidance of their writers, and films were rushed into, through, and out of production.”

Shows that were affected at the time include Breaking Bad, 30 Rock, Heroes, Star Trek: The Next Generation, Battlestar Galactica and Scrubs among others.

In its report on a comparison of the two strikes, Forbes Magazine notes that there are lessons to be learnt.

The business magazine reports that while Reality TV may provide temporary relief and fill in any emerging gaps, the labour issues will continue if they are not properly resolved.

“Audience discontent (or worry about discontent) helped push studios to make a deal. The big question is whether that will even happen again in an ecosystem where network and live television have become less significant,” Forbes notes on the role of public pressure in resolving the issue.

“People now have so many choices that they could look at a few months off from new content as a blessing - maybe it’s time to finally watch Squid Game or the latest Marvel series on Disney+, or perhaps it’s time to rebinge Game of Thrones. The writers will see quickly which way the public leans, and it will benefit if there’s outcry over lack of original shows.”

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