Writers for some of the most popular shows on television are walking off the job, striking for higher pay amid rapid changes in the way people watch their programs and films.
The Writers Guild of America, which represents more than 11,500 Hollywood scribes, said its strike is effective Tuesday morning Los Angeles time. Members voted overwhelmingly to authorize the walkout last month.
As a result, work on late night talk shows — such as Jimmy Kimmel Live and The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon — and soap operas could halt immediately. Depending on how long the work stoppage lasts, consumers could miss episodes of their favorite shows this fall. Movie release schedules could be impacted. The walkout could also depress the economy of Los Angeles, the nation’s second-largest city, which is already struggling with slower home sales and labor disruptions at its port.
In a statement Monday night, the union said the decision to strike was made after six weeks of negotiations and that the studios’ responses have been “wholly insufficient given the existential crisis writers are facing.” The guild added that the studios have been “stonewalling” on issues such as the use of artificial intelligence in script production.
Writers are concerned that generative AI tools such as ChatGPT could be cut out of the creative process, and the union has called for regulation of the technology as part of its contract. Although the group doesn’t oppose the use of AI, it says it shouldn’t share writing credits, or get a chunk of the residuals.
“It is important to note that AI software does not create anything. It generates a regurgitation of what it’s fed,” the Writers Guild wrote.
The last time the WGA walked out, in 2007, was the fifth strike in the union’s 90-year history. The writers put down their pens for 100 days, costing the Los Angeles economy some $2.5 billion, the Los Angeles County Economic Development Corp. estimates. Dozens of popular shows, including The Big Bang Theory, Desperate Housewives, Family Guy, The Office and The Simpsons had to run seasons with fewer episodes. Battlestar Galactica and Entourage seasons were postponed, and Big Shots and Bionic Woman were canceled. The standoff led to a surge in reality-TV shows, which don’t need screenplays.
If the current strike drags on, the stoppage could prevent broadcast networks, such as Walt Disney Co, which owns ABC, and Paramount Global, which owns CBS, from producing shows for the fall season. But it would likely have little immediate impact on the release of scripted TV or movies. Netflix Inc., for example, has a big pipeline of shows ready to go for the next several months so it would likely see little impact from a prolonged strike.
The Alliance of Motion Picture & Television Producers, which represents Hollywood studios, said in a separate statement Monday night that it presented “generous increases” in compensation to writers as well as improvements in residual payments for shows that are on streaming services. The studios said they were prepared to improve that offer, but were unwilling to do so because of the magnitude of other requests from the writers.
The key points of contention are mandatory staffing and duration of employment, with the studios arguing that the writers guild is seeking contracts for a minimum number of writers on shows regardless of whether they’re needed, according to the alliance’s statement.
The union says the studios that produce television shows and films have used the transition from traditional TV viewing to streaming to cut writers’ pay. More writers are working at union minimums and for shorter periods, the union said.
In the heyday of network TV, writers often worked on 22-episode seasons that included pilot episodes written before the series was officially picked up. In the streaming era, seasons may consist of only six or eight episodes and programs are ordered directly without pilots.
With streaming services often picking up global rights to shows for multiple years, there’s less opportunity for writers to earn huge paydays from recurring and international sales.
The strike is coming amid an overall contraction in entertainment spending following several boom years after Netflix, Disney and others spent heavily to create new programs for their streaming services. Disney is in the process of laying off 7,000 staffers, many of whom worked in the creation or marketing of shows.
Film and TV production in Los Angeles tumbled 24% in the first quarter, as measured by FilmLA, which administers permits for shoots. Among the hardest hit categories was TV dramas, a staple of streaming and cable TV, which fell 40%.
By Thomas Buckley and Christopher Palmeri / Bloomberg