Hollywood writers are closing their laptops and heading to the picket line.
Thousands of unionized scribes who say they are not paid fairly in the streaming era went on strike early Tuesday, bringing television production to a halt. It comes after high-stakes negotiations between a top guild and a trade association representing Hollywood’s marquee studios failed to avert the first walkout in more than 15 years.
The board of directors for the Writers Guild of America, which includes West Coast and East Coast branches, voted unanimously to call for a walkout and said writers face an “existential crisis.”
“The companies’ behavior has created a gig economy inside a union work force, and their immovable stance in this negotiation has betrayed a commitment to further devaluing the profession of writing,” the union said in a statement.
The Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers — a trade association that bargains on behalf of studios, television networks and streaming platforms — said in a statement that its offer included “generous increases in compensation for writers.”
The main “sticking points,” according to the entertainment giants, include union proposals that would require companies to staff television shows with a certain number of writers for a specific period of time, “whether needed or not.”
The strike brings production on broadcast programs, streaming shows and potentially some films to a virtual standstill, upending the entertainment industry. (Comcast, the corporation that owns NBCUniversal, is one of the entertainment companies represented by the trade group. Some editorial employees of NBCUniversal’s news division are represented by the Writers Guild of America.)
In some cases, the impact will be clear immediately. Late-night talk shows are going dark this week, for example. In other cases, the producers of scripted drama and comedy series may be forced to cut their seasons short or delay filming altogether.
This weekend’s new episode of NBC’s “Saturday Night Live,” which Pete Davidson was to host with Lil Uzi Vert as the musical guest, was canceled because of the strike, according to a news release. “SNL” will air a repeat Saturday and until further notice, it said.
The stakes and the demands
WGA members are seeking pay increases and structural changes to a business model that they say has made it increasingly difficult to make a living. In recent years, amid the explosion of streaming platforms such as Netflix and Disney+, median writer-producer pay has declined 4%, or 23% when adjusted for inflation, according to WGA statistics.
“The companies have used the transition to streaming to cut writer pay and separate writing from production, worsening working conditions for series writers at all levels,” the WGA said in a bulletin March 14 titled “Writers Are Not Keeping Up.”
The guild added that more writers are “working at minimum regardless of experience.” In contrast, salaries for top entertainment executives have ballooned in recent years.
In a video message published April 11, comedy writer and producer Danielle Sanchez-Witzel (“The Carmichael Show”), a member of the WGA’s negotiating committee, said “this is not an ordinary negotiating cycle,” adding, “We’re fighting for writers’ economic survival and the stability of our profession.”
The writers in the union are particularly frustrated that streaming-era shows run for fewer episodes than their broadcast counterparts, making it tough to maintain a consistent income. In addition, residual fees — money paid when a show is put into syndication or aired overseas — have all but disappeared as more content is hosted exclusively on streaming platforms.
In an interview with “NBC Nightly News,” Raphael Bob-Waksberg, the creator of Netflix’s animated series “BoJack Horseman,” explained the writers’ demands in stark terms.
“We want more money,” he said. “We want enough money to make a basic living doing what we love.”
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