Image of Seth Meyers at his desk on the set of 'late night with Seth Meyers' on NBC. He is a white man with light brown hair and blue eyes. He's wearing a grey buttondown shirt and holding a piece of paper that has a bolded heading that reads "Fingers Crossed."

The WGA is on Strike! Here’s What That Means For the TV You Love

#PencilsDown

As of 12:01AM today, May 2, 2023, the guild that represents most of the writers creating the film and TV you love, the Writers’ Guild of America (WGA), is on strike. That means that all writing work stopped immediately, and will not continue until the AMPTP (the trade association representing the studios) agrees to a more favorable deal for the people who create the work that gets everything else moving in Hollywood.

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What does that mean for you? For Hollywood as an industry? Let’s get into it:

Late-night shows are where we’ll see the most immediate change

Image of Seth Meyers at his desk on the set of 'late night with Seth Meyers' on NBC. He is a white man with light brown hair and blue eyes. He's wearing a grey buttondown shirt and holding a piece of paper that has a bolded heading that reads "Fingers Crossed."
(NBCUniversal)

Since late-night talk shows require constant writing right up to the time of taping, most will officially be in re-runs starting today until further notice. This includes the following nightly shows: The Late Show with Stephen Colbert, Jimmy Kimmel Live! and The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon, as well as Late Night with Seth Meyers and The Daily Show.

This will also impact weekly late-night shows. HBO’s Real Time with Bill Maher and Last Week Tonight with John Oliver are going into re-runs. However, as reported by Deadline Hollywood, NBC’s Saturday Night Live hasn’t yet made a decision about how to proceed, “although a final decision on SNL is expected to come later in the week.”

Seth Meyers, who took time during his “Corrections” segment at the end of last week to warn viewers about the strike and express his views on it, had this to say to Deadline:

“I love writing. I love writing for TV. I love writing this show. I love that we get to come in with an idea for what we want to do every day and we get to work on it all afternoon and then I have the pleasure of coming out here. No one is entitled to a job in show business. But for those people who have a job, they are entitled to fair compensation. They are entitled to make a living. I think it’s a very reasonable demand that’s being set out by the guild. And I support those demands.”

Meyers, as well as other late-night showrunners, have acknowledged that a strike not only hurts writers, but all the other talented and hard-working crew members that make their show possible. Unlike during the previous WGA strike in 2007-08, the late-night hosts plan on staying in close communication during this one to be a unified front in their actions. Deadline reports that an unnamed late-night showrunner said:

“I have been and will continue to talk to the other shows to see what they’re up to. We’ve got to support the writers — our writers are amazing. That said, the rest of the staff is amazing, and I don’t want to see anybody lose their jobs or lose a paycheck. What’s the happy medium there? Figuring that out, it’s not been easy.”

Now, that’s broadcast/cable late night, but there are also streaming late-night talk shows, like Peacock’s The Amber Ruffin Show. Those don’t qualify for WGA agreement minimums, which is one of the many things the WGA is fighting for.

What about scripted shows?

Image of Pedro Pascal as Joel and Bella Ramsay as Ellie in a scene from HBO's 'The Last of Us.' Joel is a light-skinned Latino with shaggy salt-and-pepper brown hair, a mustache and stubble and wearing a green plaid buttondown. Ellie is a white teenage girl with her brown hair pulled back into a ponytail and wearing a grey hooded sweatshirt with a red shirt underneath. They are sitting at a table eating and both looking up at something off camera.
(HBO)

It’ll take a little longer for audiences to feel the effects of the strike in episodic television (or film), but writers and crew members could be feeling the effects on their employment much sooner.

For example, since I go hard for The Last of Us, I know that the HBO hit is currently in the script-writing stage, and that the plan was for TLOU to begin production on season 2 “in a few months.” I don’t know how many scripts have already been written and are ready to be filmed, but it’s absolutely “pens-down” for showrunners Craig Mazin and Neil Druckman until the strike is over. They can’t make revisions, nor can they receive notes from their HBO execs about scripts that have been written.

If they go into production, they wouldn’t be able to change the scripts at all or include new dialogue or improvisations from actors on the fly. All the things that writers do outside of writing the initial script to make the story better won’t be allowed to happen. So, it’s unclear if they’d want to move forward while under those restraints. Considering the quality of the show, I doubt that they’d want to put out something less than excellent, so I suspect that filming on this show will be delayed.

This applies to all scripted programming. Deadline reports in their WGA Strike explainer:

Per a recent WGA report, “a work stoppage in May could delay the network television season, which continues to account for one third of all episodes produced, including 45% of the episodes produced by legacy media companies Disney, Paramount Global, and Comcast NBCUniversal. Writers on fall network series typically begin work in May and June in preparation for series premieres in September and October. Writing for numerous streaming series is also ongoing or is anticipated to begin in the coming months. Any delay in the start of work has the potential to postpone fall season premieres and could ultimately reduce the amount of new programming produced for the 2023-2024 network season.”

We’ll see how this all shakes out in the Fall.

So, why is the WGA on strike?

Square graphic that reads "NO DEAL NO WRITING" Both "Nos" are in red, and the rest of the letters are white. The words are on a black background that looks like crumpled paper.
(WGA)

No one wants to go on strike. No one enjoys being unemployed. But the past decade of streaming has changed how film and TV are made to the point that the people upon whose scripts the industry depends have been undercut financially in several ways.

The WGA is fighting for writers to be able to sustain long-term careers and have some stability in an already chaotic industry. Here is an excerpt from the statement the WGA released when announcing their strike action:

Over the course of the negotiation, we explained how the companies’ business practices have slashed our compensation and residuals and undermined our working conditions. [We] 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. We advocated on behalf of members across all sectors: features, episodic television, and comedy-variety and other non-prime-time programs, by giving them facts, concrete examples, and reasonable solutions. […]

Though we negotiated intent on making a fair deal […] the studios’ responses to our proposals have been wholly insufficient. […] From their refusal to guarantee any level of weekly employment in episodic television, to the creation of a “day rate” in comedy variety, to their stonewalling on free work for screenwriters and on AI for all writers, they have closed the door on their labor force and opened the door to writing as an entirely freelance profession. No such deal could ever be contemplated by this membership.

Creative people deserve to be able to pay their bills and plan for their futures, which is difficult if you’re constantly relegated to shorter and shorter gigs and a nominal increase in rate while the threat of AI usage to do your job (and employer unwillingness to address that) hangs over you.

What will the industry do now?

A fair deal for writers can only benefit other industry union and guild members in how they are treated and paid. Meanwhile, all unions and guilds are figuring out ways to provide resources and support for their memberships to get them through what will undoubtedly be tough times

While both organizations have “no-strike clauses” in their agreements (meaning members aren’t allowed to support the WGA strike by participating in a work stoppage), the DGA (Directors’ Guild) and SAG-AFTRA (actors’ union) both have agreements with the AMPTP that end in June and will have their own negotiations within the next month. We’ll see if their solidarity with the WGA effort impacts how they negotiate.

Meanwhile, IATSE (which represents most other crew) has their agreement in place until the summer of 2024, having narrowly averted a strike of their own during their negotiations back in 2021.

If you want to show support for the creative professionals responsible for the content you enjoy, you can start by visiting the WGA Strike Hub for more info, including picket locations on both the East and West Coasts.

#IStandWithTheWGA

(featured image: WGA)


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Author
Image of Teresa Jusino
Teresa Jusino
Teresa Jusino (she/her) is a native New Yorker and a proud Puerto Rican, Jewish, bisexual woman with ADHD. She's been writing professionally since 2010 and was a former TMS assistant editor from 2015-18. Now, she's back as a contributing writer. When not writing about pop culture, she's writing screenplays and is the creator of your future favorite genre show. Teresa lives in L.A. with her brilliant wife. Her other great loves include: Star Trek, The Last of Us, anything by Brian K. Vaughan, and her Level 5 android Paladin named Lal.
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