Over 11,000 television and film writers have stepped away from their jobs, in the first strike of its kind since 2007.
The Writers Guild of America West and the Writers Guild of America East launched a strike on Tuesday after failing to reach a new contract agreement with the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers, with snags over pay and disagreements over issues concerning streaming services.
“Driven in large part by the shift to streaming, writers are finding their work devalued in every part of the business,” a statement from the Guild read. “While company profits have remained high and spending on content has grown, writers are falling behind.”
“The companies have used the transition to streaming to cut writer pay and separate writing from production, worsening working conditions for series writers at all levels,” the statement continued. (HuffPost’s unionized employees are represented by the WGAE.)
Here’s how the strike may affect your TV habits.
These TV shows immediately shut down and won’t air this week
The first casualties have been late-night talk shows, which immediately shut down; many announced Tuesday that they’ll be airing reruns this week. This includes “The Late Show with Stephen Colbert,” “Jimmy Kimmel Live!” and “The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon,” along with the likes of “Last Week Tonight with John Oliver” and “The Daily Show.”
“Everybody, including myself, hopes both sides reach a deal. But I also think that the writers’ demands are not unreasonable,” Colbert, a Guild member, said on Monday’s “Late Show,” hours before the strike began. “This nation owes so much to unions,” he continued. “Unions are the reason we have weekends ― and by extension, why we have TGI Fridays.”
In the past, some shows like “Late Night with Conan O’Brien” returned to the air during labor disputes, but famously passed the time with meaningless tasks (like seeing how long O’Brien could spin his wedding ring on his desk) in order to illustrate the importance of every member of the staff and crew.
“Saturday Night Live” announced Tuesday that this weekend’s planned episode with host Pete Davidson has been canceled, with the rest of Season 48 going on hiatus. Reruns will air in the usual “SNL” time slot.
In New York, picketers, including “Tonight Show” announcer Steve Higgins, lined up outside the Peacock NewFront presentation to advertisers. A similar protest was held outside the Netflix offices in Los Angeles. Crew members for “The Tonight Show” have taken to social media to offer accounts of how Fallon and NBC reacted to the news.
“At a meeting Jimmy wasn’t even at, we are told NBC decided to stop paying us after this week and end our health insurance after this month if the strike is ongoing,” tweeted Sarah Kobos, the show’s senior photo research coordinator, who noted she is not a WGA member. “They won’t even tell us if we will technically be furloughed. Just active employees who aren’t paid.”
Deadline reported that Fallon and Seth Meyers, host of NBC’s “Late Night with Seth Meyers,” will pay the crews of their respective shows through at least the first three weeks of the strike, should it last that long. Meyers and Fallon are both members of the Guild. NBC, meanwhile, will reportedly pay the staff of both shows through the end of next week.
What other shows and movies will be affected, and when?
If you remember the last Hollywood writers’ strike, which lasted 100 days, you may recall how shows like “Friday Night Lights” and movies like “Quantum of Solace” were affected, or how it contributed to the abrupt, untimely end of the beloved CW show “Girlfriends.” “Friday Night Lights” famously introduced some, let’s say, unusual plot threads, and its season ended earlier than it would have otherwise, at 15 episodes. (TV critic Emily St. James pointed out that the strike gave the writers time to think of how to fix these divisive storylines for Season 3.)
As for the James Bond flick, the script was submitted a mere two hours before the strike started and was not refined or edited by actual writers beyond that. Star Daniel Craig tried to rework the screenplay with director Marc Forster, but as he put it in a 2011 interview, “We were fucked.”
As Deadline notes, networks leaned heavily on unscripted reality TV during the last writers strike. However, streaming didn’t really exist back then, so it’s unclear how exactly this current stoppage might play out differently.
The impact of this strike has already hit several popular scripted shows. Season 2 of Showtime’s “Yellowjackets” is currently airing, but the writers room for Season 3 had just gotten started, and is now closed after only a day. Writing for Season 3 of “Abbott Elementary,” previously scheduled to begin Tuesday, is canceled for the time being.
“Abbott” writer Brittani Nichols, in an interview with Democracy Now, described how this will likely affect the scheduling for her show and others, come the fall ― or even next year, depending how long it takes to reach a contract agreement.
“We are a show that writes while we air,” said Nichols, who is participating in the strike. “If this strike goes on for a significant period of time, our show will not come out on time, and that could change the amount of episodes, which people, I’m sure, will be very upset about.”
Netflix’s “Cobra Kai” has entered a state of “pencils down,” according to a post from writer Jon Hurwitz about production on the sixth season. The streaming service’s final season of “Big Mouth” was supposed to complete writing by August, but has stopped six weeks in, according to Variety.
On the flip side, HBO’s “House of the Dragon” is reportedly continuing to film despite the strike. The scripts for the second season had already been submitted, but complications may arise with no writers on the production to witness changes to their work, according to IGN.
Depending on how long it takes producers and writers to reach an agreement, more productions may face slowdowns or shutdowns that could ultimately affect fall TV schedules and programming.
No major movie projects have reported delays yet, but any slowdowns on the film side wouldn’t be felt as immediately as they are with television. Deadline noted that the film calendar for early 2024 is already set, with pandemic-delayed movies still finding their way into theaters. However, depending on the length of the strike, delays could arise beyond that.
What’s at stake in the contract dispute
The WGA’s demands include higher pay and more writers in the room.
Amid the streaming boom, writers’ pay has diminished, and so have residuals ― that is, payments for when work is re-aired or resold, such as in reruns or syndication. Such payments have been reduced by the onset of streaming services. Meanwhile, CEOs like Ted Sarandos at Netflix and David Zaslav at Warner Bros. Discovery are taking home multimillion-dollar salaries, according to The Hollywood Reporter, even as they frequently cut shows and eliminate people’s jobs. The WGA says its new contract proposals could benefit members by $429 million, allowing them to take home living wages for rent and other necessities.
“Working as a staff writer, I was still broke, still on Medicaid. The studio wouldn’t fly me out to the writers room in LA, so I worked from my Brooklyn apartment,” Alex O’Keefe, a writer on FX’s award-winning show “The Bear,” wrote in a viral Twitter thread last month. “My heat was out that pandemic winter, my space heater blew out the lights. I worked on episode 8 from a library.”
In their demands, WGA members also called for protections against the rise in generative artificial intelligence. “AI can’t write or rewrite literary material; can’t be used as source material; and MBA-covered material can’t be used to train AI,” the Guild’s proposal reads. This was rejected by the AMPTP, which instead offered annual meetings to discuss “advancements in technology.”
WGA members say that other demands for the new contract are intended to maintain healthy writers rooms, giving staff three weeks at minimum to work on each episode with half of the writers employed through production. However, the AMPTP also rejected this proposal, saying streamers typically require an entire season’s worth of scripts before greenlighting a new project.