The 2023 Writers Strike: Everything You Need to Know
If you are online, on Twitter, or watching your favorite newscaster (who is not Don Lemon or Tucker Carlson) you've probably heard about the "writers strike." However, if you are like me and don't have a degree in contract law, this whole situation might be a bit confusing. Who's on strike? What for? How long will it last? SO MANY QUESTIONS. And sure, a group of 12,000 writers in L.A. going on strike may not seem like something that applies to you, but nearly all of your favorite TV shows could be in jeopardy if the strike lasts long enough, so you should probably figure out what's happening. (You may, after all, remember the last writers strike, which went on for months and caused the cancelations of numerous shows).
Luckily for you, I have been digging into this (with or without an MBA, I might add) to get to the bottom of everything. I'm here to explain residual payments, production cycles and livable wages so that when your friends at work ask "What the hell is going on with late night show?" you know just how to answer.
Here's everything you need to know about the 2023 writers strike:
What does the writers strike mean?
Okay, we'll start out easy. A writers strike is just like any other strike only instead of teachers, auto workers or garbage collectors striking, it is writers. In this case, the writers in question are a part of the Writers Guild of America (WGA for short). The WGA represents over 12,000 writers working in show business. They're the ones who write scripts for television, movies, podcasts, streaming shows, late night shows, etc.
Writers who write other things such as books, articles, Parade Magazine, billboards and the copy on the back of detergent bottles are not impacted.
Long story short: the WGA members are not happy with their contract terms and so they are striking.
Who are the writers striking against?
So this is where it gets a bit more complicated. The WGA are on strike while negotiating contracts with the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers (AMPTP).
Who are the AMPTP? Glad you asked. The AMPTP is the trade association that represents over 350 film and television production companies, which includes the major film studios (Paramount, Sony, Warner Bros., Universal and Disney), network TV (ABC, CBS, FOX, and NBC), and streamers (Paramount+, Max, Peacock, Disney+, Hulu, Netflix, Apple TV+, and Amazon Prime Video). The AMPTP represent the studios in their negotiations with the various Hollywood guilds for actors, directors, writers, etc.
The WGA is striking during its negotiations with AMPTP, so basically the writers are striking against the studios.
Why are the writers striking?
The WGA is on strike for better "compensation and equity structures." And while any contract negotiation has dozens of moving parts, this mainly comes down to the arrival of streamers and something called "residuals."
In the old days when TV shows were beamed into people's houses at a specific time (remember that?) and when films were put in theaters and then later released on VHS/DVD (remember those?), writers were paid in two ways. First, they would get a lump sum up front for their work (duh), and second, they would received what are called "residuals." If the show/movie did well, the writers (who were arguably a big part of the success) would get a portion of the payment as long as the show/movie continued to do well. So for example, the writers of Golden Girls would have received payment for episode they wrote when they wrote it, but would also get money every time it aired on cable/sold a DVD box set/etc.
With the advent of streaming, however, the structure of how people watch things changed. Netflix makes Orange Is the New Black and its on Netflix presumably forever. And so when streamers started commissioning writers for their shows, the writers would get paid one lump sum without residuals (because the streamer was just going to stick it on their platform and not sell reruns to Nick at Nite). But as you may quickly realize, that means writers could have shows that millions of people watch for decades and decades without them ever seeing a dime for their work outside of the initial payment.
So mostly, the WGA just wants fairer compensation for the work they do and to continue to earn money for their work that does well.
What do the writers want?
Well first and foremost they would like better residuals/in many cases residuals at all.
On top of residuals, the WGA would like to clear up a bunch of other issues with respect to the rise of streaming/tech. They want increased minimum compensation, better working standards, regulations regarding AI, and anti-discrimination measures.
Most WGA writers are basically freelancers, and so the WGA wants to give them a bit more stability so they aren't all living paycheck-to-paycheck while the shows they write rake in billions for streamers.
If you want to get out your fine-toothed comb, you can parse through the deal points as the WGA has listed them out.
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Who is on strike?
Members of the WGA are on strike. So most of the writers behind every scripted television show and movie. However, this is a US-based strike which means that international operations may be up and running depending on the terms.
Are people still writing and are there writers crossing the picket lines?
For all intents and purposes, the answer here is no. While there are certainly writers in Hollywood who are not a part of the WGA, Hollywood is a very union/guild-focused town. The guilds are very powerful in that they comprise most of Hollywoods talent, and they support one another. During the last writers strike in 2007-2008, production on scripted shows all but ceased, and we expect the same this time if the strike continues.
When did the writers strike start?
The writers strike started at midnight on May 2, 2023, so writers are currently on strike.
How long will the writers strike last and when will it end?
As with all strikes, there is really no knowing how long the strike will last or when it will end. The 2007-2008 strike lasted three months and eight days, so if this lasts the same amount of time, the writers will be out of work until August 9, 2023. However, this strike was longer than previous WGA strikes. The upheaval caused by the 2007-2008 strike, however, looms large in the minds of many involved in the current strike, so hopefully they'll be able to reach an agreement sooner rather than later.
When will shows shut down because of the writers strike?
Basically, every writer has stopped writing, but if production already has completed scripts or the show has already been filmed, those will still be filmed/aired. That means that shows like late night/sketch/soap operas will be the first to go as they have the shortest turn-around time.
Most network TV shows will be able to finish out their seasons, but will not be able to restart in the fall unless the strike has finished by then. For streaming content and movies, there is usually a longer lead time between when a script is finished and when the final product is aired so there will probably be several months where you don't notice much of a change on that front.
If however, the strike continues on into summer/fall, we could see a dearth of content similar to that in late 2020 when COVID shut down production.
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What shows have already been shut down because of the strike?
The first casualties of the writers strike are late night and sketch shows where the time between writing and airing is the shortest. Since late night shows often are working on scripts up until the minutes before the show is filmed (and days before it airs), those have the least amount of wiggle room. Many late night shows have already aired their last episodes and the rest will be doing so shortly.
What shows won't be impacted by the strike?
Shows without WGA-written scripts are free to proceed. That means mostly reality TV, sports, news, interview shows and international productions. If the strike isn't resolved quickly, expect an uptick in reality TV shows spinoffs and international TV shows to start appearing. Also, sports that are usually relegated to obscure cable channels could be getting some prime time placement.
When was the last writers strike?
The previous major WGA strike took place from late 2007 through early 2008 and lasted three months. Without streaming and taking place in the middle of the network TV calendar, that strike had a more immediate impact than this one does, but whether that will lead to snappier negotiations remains to be seen.