AP Explains Hollywood Writer’s Strike
The union that represents 11,500 screenwriters for film, television, and other forms of entertainment in the United States is on strike. It’s the first writers’ walkout — and the first in Hollywood of any kind — in 15 years. Here’s a look at the consequences of this fight.
Why Are the Writers on Strike?
Streaming and its domino effect are at the center of the dispute. The union says that, despite the fact that the budgets of the series have increased, the part of that money destined for the writers has been constantly reduced. The fact that the streaming platforms have less staff – something that is known in the sector as “mini rooms” — for shorter periods has made it more difficult to earn sustained income, the union says. And the number of writers working for the union-set minimum wage has risen from one-third to about half in the last decade.
Writers of comedy shows for streaming platforms have no minimum wage protection, the union notes. Frequency for fewer weeks,” the union noted in a March report. The lack of a regular seasonal schedule in streaming has further reduced wages, the report says. And scheduled annual wage increases under the current contract have been very below inflationary increases.
The weekly minimum for a regular staff writer on a television series in the 2019-2020 season was $4,546, according to Variety, an industry outlet. He works an average of 29 weeks on a network television show for $131,834 a year, or an average of 20 weeks on a streaming series for $90,920. For a writer-producer, the amount is $6,967 a week.
How Did You Get Here?
Despite months of negotiations, there is still a considerable distance between the writers and the AMPTP. The Writers Guild of America (WGA) has two sides—the East and the West—which are technically two unions acting as one unit in these negotiations. The talks—which often they go on for hours or days after the contract expires—they ended hours before the most recent contract expired Monday night. By then, the writers, who voted overwhelmingly to authorize their leaders to call a strike, had already begun making posters for the demonstrations, which they used immediately on Tuesday.
Which Shows Will Be Affected First?
Late-night talk shows, which rely heavily on comedy scriptwriting based on same-day events, were the first to feel the effect of the strike. Such shows have been the de facto front lines during previous writers’ strikes. NBC’s “The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon”; ABC’s “Jimmy Kimmel Live!” and CBS’s “The Late Show With Stephen Colbert” went on hiatus immediately and will air reruns. James Corden’s farewell to his “Late Late Show” on Thursday night was timely.
“Saturday Night Live,” which relies almost entirely on last-minute scriptwriting, has already scrapped this week’s episode with host Pete Davidson. The final two episodes of the season that follow are in serious jeopardy. There is less certainty regarding the state of daytime talk shows, which lean more toward host-led talks and interviews. ABC’s “The View” had no interruptions during the last strike, which began in late 2007 and ended in 2008.
How Will the Strike Affect Scripted Series and Films?
The strike’s impact on scripted series could take much longer to be felt, though some, including Showtime’s “Yellowjackets,” are already pausing production. Noticeable effects on the film release schedule could take even longer. Production based on completed scripts can continue as planned (without the benefit of last-minute rewrites). In general, the other unions in Hollywood—including the actors’ and directors’ unions, which face expiration of agreements with the AMPTP in the coming months—are prohibited by their contracts from joining the current strike and must continue to work, although members and leaders have expressed their solidarity with the WGA. The productions, long aware of the impending deadline, tried to wrap up their work before it arrived.
What’s Next for the Writers?
The total work stoppage will mean huge financial losses for screenwriters, though many say the daily decline in their income is worth fighting for. Guild strike rules prohibit members from striking new deals, submitting new ideas or turning in scripts new. They are allowed to accept payment for any scripts they have already turned in. Those in various roles, including series managers who work as writer-producers, actor-writers, and people like Quinta Brunson of “Abbot Elementary” who do all of the above, they are allowed to perform their non-writing job functions under union rules, though that work may be minimal as they seek solidarity with their writing staff.
What Has Been the Outcome of the Previous Writers’ Strikes?
Writers have gone on strike six times, more than any other group in Hollywood. The first occurred in 1960, a walkout by the Writers Guild that lasted nearly five months. Strikes followed in 1973, 1981, and 1985. The longest work stoppage, lasting exactly five months, occurred in 1988. The 2007-2008 strike was resolved after three months. Among the major concessions the writers won were requirements that streaming shows, just starting out, would have to hire writers from the guild if their budgets were large enough. It was an early harbinger of almost all the entertainment sector labor struggles in the years since.