• Washington Post

Writers Begin Strike in Move That Could Bring Hollywood to a Halt

REUTERS/Mike Blake
The Writers Guild of America West offices are seen in Los Angeles as Hollywood film and TV writers, who voted overwhelmingly in favour of giving union negotiators the power to call a strike if contract talks with studios break down, can order a work stoppage after May 1, in Los Angeles, California, U.S., April 25, 2023.

More than 11,000 unionized television and movie writers declared a strike Tuesday in a move that could bring Hollywood studios and networks to a halt and will immediately disrupt late-night TV.

“Jimmy Kimmel Live!” and “The Late Show With Stephen Colbert” are among the shows that will immediately start airing reruns, while “Real Time With Bill Maher” and “Last Week Tonight With John Oliver” will be replaced with other programming. If the strike stretches for months, as the last one did 15 years ago, it could push back fall TV shows and jam up the queue of films and streaming content scheduled to release in future years.

The Writers Guild of America’s decision to carry out the first industry-wide strike since 2007 comes after the collapse of weeks-long negotiations with production companies over writer compensation and other issues, such as the use of artificial intelligence in scripts.

Writers started picketing outside 10 major studios in and around Los Angeles and the Peacock NewFront event Tuesday afternoon, and plan to do so outside Netflix’s Manhattan headquarters Wednesday in New York.

“Spoiler Alert: we write the lines that the actors say,” one sign said.

“Pay your writers or we’ll spoil Succession,” read another.

The WGA wrote on Twitter that the studios’ responses were “wholly insufficient given the existential crisis writers are facing,” adding it had pulled the trigger after six weeks of negotiations with Netflix, Amazon, Apple, Disney, Discovery-Warner, NBC Universal, Paramount and Sony.

Studios “could have made a deal last night. Instead, they’ve chosen to cost themselves and everyone else billions of dollars,” TV writer David Slack said on his way to picket at Netflix’s Los Angeles headquarters. “We need profound increase in our initial compensation, in our streaming residuals and in how our writers in many different categories are compensated for the value that we bring to the product.”

Nearly 98 percent of the guild’s voting members authorized a potential walkout last month as they worked to negotiate a new contract before the deadline – which came at midnight Pacific time. Their goals included raising writers’ minimum wages and ensuring that writers who work on streaming shows earn compensation comparable to their peers whose work appears in theaters.

The Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers, which represents Hollywood production companies, said in a statement that it had offered “generous increases in compensation.” The “primary sticking points,” it said, were guild demands that companies staff shows with a fixed number of writers for a fixed amount of time, regardless of need. The group said it is open to continuing negotiations.

The impending strike disrupted the Met Gala red carpet Monday night, as many celebrities expressed their support for the writers union at an event typically focused on the opulent designs A-listers are wearing.

“My writer friends believe it’s going to happen,” actress Amanda Seyfried said. “I’m not in the rooms. I don’t get what the problem is. Everything changed with streaming, and everybody needs to be compensated for their work.”

“I wouldn’t have a show without my writers; I support them all the way,” Jimmy Fallon said on his show Monday, which Variety reported would also go dark. “They’ve got to have a fair contract, and they got a lot of stuff to iron out.”

Late-night shows such as Fallon’s will be the first visibly affected by the strike, forced to broadcast old episodes or simply go off air without a stable of writers to script jokes off the day’s news.

“As a proud member of the guild, I’m very grateful that there’s an organization that looks out for the best interests of writers,” Seth Meyers said on his show Monday. “If you don’t see me here next week, know that it is something that is not done lightly and that I will be heartbroken to miss you, as well.”

Netflix, though, has a “robust slate” of shows and films to carry it through the next few months, Ted Sarandos, co-CEO of the streaming giant, said earlier this year.

Studios and networks have also been anticipating a strike for weeks – although they had managed several times to avert that prospect since a strike from November 2007 until the following February badly disrupted TV programming.

The WGA and the studios were able to hammer out a deal at the 11th hour after the guild authorized a strike in 2017. The most recent contract was settled in 2020.

Howard A. Rodman, former president of WGA West, said a decade and a half since the last strike, the goal this time is to make sure writers can “work with dignity, not as replaceable cogs in the machineries of a gig economy.”

This year’s strike authorization vote had the highest approval rate and turnout of any in the WGA’s history.

Rodman, who has been part of the union since 1989, said he’s never seen guild members more united.