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Hollywood Writers Picket for Guaranteed Work, Residuals and More

July 5, 2023

Jack Bloomberg

During winter break in 2007, I spent the holidays with my family in Florida. While I remember a lot from that trip including the warm weather, nice meals and Chanukah gifts, one moment stands out above all else: Conan O’Brien spinning his wedding ring for 36 seconds on late night TV. At the time, the Writers Guild of America (“WGA”) strike had persisted for months and networks struggled to generate content without the support of a writer’s room. Admittedly, this gave way to some good talk show moments; Conan growing out his beard, playing guitar and riffing with the audience never failed to entertain. However, the strike also demonstrated the potential outcome of failed collective bargaining negotiations. With film productions shutting down and reruns filling primetime TV slots, the entertainment industry felt a serious financial impact from the protests in 2008. Now, fifteen years later, the sequel has arrived.  


Writers for major television and film studios like Disney, Apple, and Netflix (amongst others) have been on strike since the beginning of May after they failed to agree to terms of a new agreement with the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers (“AMPTP”). With the prior union contract expired and negotiations falling through, writers and other workers in the entertainment industry have taken to the streets to protest. In 2007/2008, the picket lines formed because writers sought higher compensation for their work as media shifted to DVD releases and internet downloads. During the modern age of quick access, writers are now seeking greater compensation again as it relates to residuals from streaming. For writers, residual payments are a major source of income because they get paid when their episodes run repeatedly on TV, but the same cannot be said for replays on streaming services.


There are other WGA demands that have fueled the protests as well, including increased durations of employment for TV writers. As trends shift towards shorter seasons of shows (once upon a time shows had roughly 24 episodes in a season), fewer writers are needed to draft screenplays and scripts. The WGA proposed minimum staff requirements so that more writers could find consistent work for longer periods of time. In response, the AMPTP pointed out that a hiring and scheduling quota may not work in a creative industry. Not every program requires a big team of writers and studios do not want to staff a show with writers that may or may not be utilized. Another issue discussed between the parties was limiting the use of artificial intelligence in order to preserve writers’ jobs. While studios could pay writers to fix an AI generated script, thereby saving time and money, writers are seeking creative control to avoid editing computer made content. The AMPTP has also made offers to increase wages and proposed a new category of payment rates for mid-level writers in the industry, but nothing has been agreed to yet.

The upcoming season of your favorite show could be delayed as the Writers Guild of America strike continues.

If the strike continues, studios could feel a financial impact, just as they did fifteen years ago. Without writers to generate new scripts and content, production for TV and film can stall or stop altogether. Since the first week of May, nightly talk shows and weekly programming like Saturday Night Live have not been able to film. Production on upcoming seasons of some of my favorite shows like Severance, Stranger Things and The Mandalorian have also been delayed. Moreover, if Hollywood studios cannot release new content on a regular basis, there is a possibility of cancelled streaming subscriptions, fewer views, and empty seats at the movie theater. For AMPTP, the cost of those losses could be weighed against the price of union demands under a new agreement. The writers’ strike in 2007/2008 ended up costing Hollywood over a billion dollars, with some estimates being closer to two billion. Which begs the question now, how much could be lost in 2023?

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