Writers Strike 2023 Explained: Why the WGA Is Battling With Hollywood Studios

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The post Writers Strike 2023 Explained: Why the WGA Is Battling With Hollywood Studios appeared first on Consequence.

It’s official: As of 12:01 AM PT on May 2nd, Hollywood’s writers are on strike. This isn’t the first time the Writers Guild of America has stopped work to pick up picket signs in protest of their current working conditions — and as we saw during the last strike, which began in November 2007 and lasted for 100 days, the effects can be seismic on the films and TV shows which would normally be in production.

It’s early days in what may be a protracted fight between the studios and the writers, so for right now here’s a basic explainer of what the news means, what repercussions to expect in the immediate future, and why exactly this matters.

What Does a Writers Strike Mean, In the Simplest Terms?

It means that starting Tuesday, the 11,500 members of the Writers Guild of America, having overwhelmingly voted their approval, are going to go “pencils down” and refuse to work any further on any current or future film and TV projects made by any major studios or production companies.

Why Are the Writers Striking?

Every few years, as the previous contract’s expiration date approaches, the WGA signs a new contract for further work with the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers (AMPTP), the collective bargaining representative for the industry’s studios and producers. This time, the WGA was negotiating for a contract that would address many of the concerns writers have about the current state of the industry, and couldn’t come to an agreement with AMPTP to address those concerns before the previous contract expired on May 1st.

What are those concerns? In short: Things are a mess, if you want to be a professional writer for film and television these days, due to the massive changes to the industry caused by streaming services. This March 2023 report from the WGA details how the TV landscape’s shift to shorter seasons (per the dictates of streaming services) means that many writers are being paid less in 2023 than they were just 10 years ago. This Vanity Fair piece is just one article covering the current existential crisis writers today are facing — and why they feel a strike is necessary now.

What Immediate Effects Will I Notice, Now That There’s a Strike?

From an audience standpoint, the first shows that will be immediately impacted include late night scripted series like Late Night with Seth Meyers and Saturday Night Live — these shows will likely shut down production and not air new episodes this week. (Pete Davidson may be sighing in relief right now.)

SNL I Get, but Why Will the Talk Shows Shut Down? Aren’t They All Just Talking?

Well, no — talk shows have large staffs of writers who craft the monologues, sketches, and on-stage banter for their hosts. More importantly, said hosts are usually WGA members themselves and members of their own writing staffs.

One of the WGA strike guidelines, per Deadline, is that “the Guild can’t require members not to perform purely producing functions, but members are encouraged to refuse to perform any work for struck studios to assist the strike effort.” During the 2007-08 strike, shows including The Tonight Show with Jay Leno and Late Night with Conan O’Brien did return to production after a few weeks of being shut down, but the hosts didn’t perform written monologues.

What About Other Shows and Movies?

This is where it gets complicated, and definitely depends on how long the strike lasts. Broadcast TV shows on the traditional network schedule, like Abbott Elementary and Grey’s Anatomy, are technically on hiatus now, but writers would report back for work on their next seasons in the summer if the strike wasn’t a factor. If the strike continues for long, expect a lot of fall premiere dates to be postponed.

Of course, the current trend of year-round production means that May is no longer an automatic month off for anyone working in TV, and so the shows which are currently writing scripts and/or are in production will shut down, leading to premiere date delays which could stretch forward for years.

In general, behind the scenes, as long as the strike lasts writers will not be able to conduct any business or give any interviews about their work (if said work was for a WGA signatory company — some animation projects are exempt, as one example). The 2007-08 strike, which lasted 100 days, led to a number of shows shortening their seasons, as well as major films being rushed into production without completed scripts.

What Are Some Random Fun Facts About the 2007-2008 Writers Strike I Might Not Know?

· The strike is why 30 Rock Season 2 was only 15 episodes long, and more specifically why Episode 210 has no official title.

· Fans of the HBO masterpiece Entourage were forced to wait several extra months for the return of Vinny and the boys.

· When the first season of Breaking Bad was cut from nine to seven episodes because of the strike, Vince Gilligan had time to reassess his plans for certain characters — which was good news for Dean Norris’s Hank Schrader.

· Is Quantum of Solace your least favorite Daniel Craig Bond, because the script isn’t great? There’s a reason for that: As Craig put it in a 2011 Time Out interview, “On Quantum, we were fucked. We had the bare bones of a script and then there was a writers’ strike and there was nothing we could do. We couldn’t employ a writer to finish it.”

Why Is a Strike Important?

The WGA is negotiating not just for the current state of writers today, but their future. A huge aspect of the 2007-2008 strike was negotiating for jurisdiction over the realm of digital distribution, which was just then becoming a growing concern thanks to the rise of iTunes sales. The guild’s success there meant that when Netflix and other streaming platforms moved into creating their own original content, WGA writers were able to get a foothold in that space.

On the evening of May 1st, after the strike was confirmed, WGA board member and Adam Ruins Everything host Adam Conover shared a breakdown of the WGA proposals for the new contract:

Noted in the above are the rejections of new standards for how writers are paid on a regular basis, given the needs of the new streaming economy, as well as a chilling rejection of standards regarding the use of artificial intelligence as written material for covered projects. As Conover explained in this follow-up comment:

“The pattern is obvious: The proposals that they refuse to engage with are the ones that would protect writers the most. That would protect us from being turned into gig workers they pay by the day. We are fighting for nothing less than the survival of writing as a viable career.”

How Long Will the Writers Strike Last?

Until the WGA signs a new deal with the AMPTP, ultimately. This could be a matter of days, weeks, or months: The 1988 writers strike lasted 153 days, the longest to date. Many people are predicting it could last around two months, but that remains to be seen. This post will be updated as events progress.

Writers Strike 2023 Explained: Why the WGA Is Battling With Hollywood Studios
Liz Shannon Miller

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