Latest On WGA Strike: Fall TV Season Is Being Shaken Up
It's Day 15 of the Writers Guild of America strike. And it’s clear it is shaking up the fall television season, still months away.
Each spring, major networks, cable channels and streaming services host elaborate presentations called the “upfronts,” where they preview new and returning shows for advertisers. Billions of dollars of commercial time are sold over the course of several days.
- This year, at Monday's NBC’s event at the Radio City Music Hall, hundreds of screenwriters set up pickets and chanted “I don’t know but I’ve been told, NBC has a heart that’s cold,” as advertisers entered the building.
- Mark Lazarus, who runs NBCUniversal’s TV and streaming businesses, told ad buyers, “It may take some time, but I know we will eventually get through this.”
- Netflix had planned an elaborate upfront presentation on Wednesday at New York’s Paris Theater, but canceled the event, which will now be held virtually.
Separately, the Tony Awards have canceled their live broadcast in June on CBS and Paramount Plus. The ceremony’s producers had asked the WGA for a waiver that would have allowed guild writers to script the show, but the WGA declined the request. It’s unclear what form the annual Broadway awards show will now take.
Meanwhile, in an ongoing display of inventive protest signs, a group of strikers in L.A. raised more than $2,000 to fly a plane with a carefully worded banner over the city's movie studios and streaming HQs.
What AMPTP has said
Hollywood producers released a statement on May 4 that addressed specific points of the WGA's concerns. Among the issues addressed by the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers were:
- "Gig economy" for writers: It says screenwriting has almost nothing in common with standard “gigs" jobs. Writers often have a guarantee of specific weeks or episodes, and writing jobs come with benefits such as employer-paid health care and pension plan contributions.
- Mandatory staffing and duration of employment: The AMPT sees this essentially as a hiring quota that's "incompatible with the creative nature of our industry", and says it's a one-size-fits-all solution to shows that are each unique.
- Overall numbers: The AMTP disputes the WGA's claim that it's only offering $41 million a year in minimum wage increases. It says it's nearer $97 million per year, which doesn't take into account other wage and residual increases it's offered.
- Wage increases: It's offering the highest first-year general wage increase in more than 25 years, while also offering to create "an entirely new category of rates that will establish a new and higher floor for mid-level writers’ compensation".
- Streaming residuals: A 46% increase in residuals took effect in 2020, and many writers have yet to see these in their paychecks. For a one-hour episode of a Netflix or Amazon Prime series, a writer receives $72,000 in residuals over three years, growing to $114,000 over seven years.
- Artificial intelligence: "AI raises hard, important creative and legal questions for everyone. For example, writers want to be able to use this technology as part of their creative process, without changing how credits are determined, which is complicated given AI material can't be copyrighted. So it's something that requires a lot more discussion, which we've committed to doing."
What the WGA has said
In a statement released the night before the strike, the WGA said:
"Over the course of the negotiation, we explained how the companies' business practices have slashed our compensation and residuals and undermined our working conditions. Our chief negotiator, as well as writers on the committee, made clear to the studios’ labor representatives that we are determined to achieve a new contract with fair pay that reflects the value of our contribution to company success and includes protections to ensure that writing survives as a sustainable profession."
What else you should know
- It is the first WGA strike in 15 years; the last work stoppage began in November 2007 and lasted 100 days.
- As of today, no new talks were scheduled.
Why it matters
The WGA says that most of its nearly 12,000 members are making less than they once did, and that after factoring for inflation, average WGA pay has actually dropped 14% over the last five years.
The union says about half of WGA members are earning scale — the bare minimum wages stipulated by the contract with the AMPTP. Ten years ago, it was only a third.
Executives at studios and streamers maintain that they are still recovering from pandemic losses and have spent billions of dollars creating and buying content for new streaming platforms, some of which are far from profitable.
For Hollywood executives, the stakes are high: if the AMPTP deal for writers increases pay and residual payments, their profit margins could shrink. Furthermore, other Hollywood unions would likely use any WGA gains as the template for their demands; contracts for the Screen Actors Guild and the Directors Guild of America both expire in the coming weeks.
How we're reporting on this
John Horn, who covers arts and entertainment, has been following negotiations closely. Josie Huang talked to picketers and local businesses affected by the strike. In addition, our AirTalk team has featured the strike in on-air discussions on LAist 89.3 and LAist coverage.
Our podcasts HTLA and Retake have also talked to writers and others affected by the strike.
This is a developing story. We fact check everything and rely only on information from credible sources (think fire, police, government officials and reporters on the ground). Sometimes, however, we make mistakes and/or initial reports turn out to be wrong. In all cases, we strive to bring you the most accurate information in real time and will update this story as new information becomes available.
What questions we're asking
- What are the main sticking points in the negotiations?
- How do the contracts of other Hollywood unions — some of which have no-strike clauses — affect this strike?
- What's next for your favorite shows?
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- From Gas Stations to Restaurants: How The WGA Strike Will Hit The LA Economy
- This Hollywood Writers Strike Could Have Massive Economic Impact. An Economist Explains What We Can Learn From 2007
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