Hollywood braces for potential writers strike as deadline looms

The Writers Guild of America has voted to allow a strike if it is unable to agree on a new contract with major studios by midnight.
Posted at 12:03 PM, May 01, 2023

The future of some of your favorite television and streaming shows could be in jeopardy if Hollywood writers can't reach an agreement with producers.

The Writers Guild of America, which represents thousands of film and TV writers, voted last month and overwhelmingly approved to strike if the group is unable to negotiate a new contract with major studios. The current contract is set to expire at midnight Monday, meaning some 11,000 union writers could go on strike as soon as Tuesday.

The union is demanding higher pay and better benefits, saying the expansion of streaming services has increased demand from writers and devalued their work.

The Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers, a negotiator for the studios, said the ratification of the strike authorization doesn't come as a surprise.

"Our goal is, and continues to be, to reach a fair and reasonable agreement," the association said in a statement.

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Danny Tolli, a TV show writer and union member, told Scripps News that writers are experiencing the "most comprehensive assault" on compensation that he's ever seen. 

"The streaming industry was a huge boom for Hollywood and for writers. But at the same time, 10 years ago when streaming was first coming around, 33% of us were working at our contract minimums," Tolli said. "Now, today, that's half of our writers. Our pay has dramatically fallen despite a prosperous decade in film and TV. When you adjust that for inflation, our wages have declined 23%."

The last time the writers guild went on strike was back in 2007, when many network shows were forced to shorten seasons or cancel shows altogether to compensate. In 2017, another strike authorization was voted on an approved, but a deal with the studios was reached before the strike happened. 

"Our demands are reasonable," Tolli said. "If studios want to make any given product, whether that's film or TV or comedy variety, they have to find it in their budgets to pay writers like myself fairly for the value that we create."

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What's impacted by a strike?

If producers and writers can't come to an agreement by midnight tonight, and a strike begins, then you'll probably notice some changes right away. 

Late-night television shows like "Saturday Night Live" and "The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon" will be impacted first because writers are generating new material for those shows every day. Without writers, they may have to cease production. 

"Variety shows like 'SNL' are probably going to cut their season short, depending on how long the strike goes," entertainment attorney Mike Mandell told Scripps News. "What will be around is reality TV shows and unscripted television." 

Movies probably won't be impacted right away, mostly because a lot of movies are filmed a year or more in advance. It all depends on how long an impending strike could last. 

The last strike dragged out for about 100 days and much of the work that went on in Hollywood came to a grinding halt. Hundreds of thousands of support staff were laid off by the studios, and many big networks saw their prime-time ratings plummet.

Both sides are expected to continue their negotiations up until the deadline, but Hollywood executives are reportedly preparing for a potential strike by stockpiling scripts and planning more reality television series.