The Writers Guild of America (WGA) is currently preparing to vote on whether to issue a writers’ strike across the industry – with such a strike threatening to unleash an “industry earthquake” that could dramatically affect the production of feature films, television, and digital series.
In the world of film and TV production, the pen is definitely mightier than the sword. A writers’ strike has the potential to disrupt schedules, slash productions, and cost TV networks millions of dollars in lost ad revenue.
The WGA vote is planned for April 19-24 and comes in response to the Guild’s difficulty in negotiating a new contract with the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers (AMPTP). The WGA is making higher demands for writers’ salaries, health benefits, and job security. Last month, the two parties could not reach an agreement for the new contract, and so negotiations were suspended. They’ll resume talks on April 10, with the hope that a deal can be reached before the WGA votes on authorizing a writers’ strike.
Should this strike occur, the results could be highly damaging.
The last writers’ strike stretched from the end of 2007 through the start of 2008, lasting 100 days in total. As WGA West director David J. Young explained in a letter, this strike “resulted in the loss of almost 25 percent of primetime scripted programming for the 2007-2008 broadcast season. During the strike, the broadcast networks ran out of new episodes to air and were forced to air reruns and increased amounts of reality programming.”
“The loss of original programming had a significant impact on ratings. During the three months most affected by the strike, the major broadcast networks’ ratings declined, on average, double digits compared to the same period in 2007.”
As Young explained further, these ratings ended up forcing NBC to return money to advertisers.
The writers’ commitment to put down their pens in 2007 also lead to shows like Breaking Bad and Heroes having their seasons cut short, and films like Johnny Depp’s Shantaram never getting made.
The 2017 strike, should it happen, would go into effect on May 2. Shows scheduled to premiere in the fall would likely run into severe problems, since the writing of these programs typically begin in May. Late-night talk shows will also suffer from the writers’ strike, as they tend to release a new episode every night during the week and thus need plenty of writers on hand to generate that material. These programs will either go off the air during the strike, or else find some unconventional way of weathering the storm.
Unscripted programs, however, will likely benefit from this arrangement.
Why Are Writers Angry?
The writers who are most aggrieved are those working in television. The source of their frustration comes partly from the changing landscape of the medium. These writers are paid based on the number of episodes they work on. Since television series now tend to include fewer episodes, but nonetheless take just as much time to produce, these writers end up making less money.
As Young writes in that letter, “Writers, who are primarily paid by the number of episodes produced, often work just as many weeks on short order series as they did on traditional 22-episode series but are paid for fewer episodes.”
This has contributed to a 23 percent decline in average pay for television writers over the last two years. An interest in seeing their pay go up, in addition to receiving more generous health care benefits and sturdier job security, are what these writers are trying to negotiate in their contract with the AMPTP.
If those negotiations fail, odds are high that the writers’ strike will happen. That would be a bad thing for the entertainment industry, and especially for the fans who miss out on good programs and productions as a result.
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