May 3, 2023
Thousands of unionized scribes who say they are not paid fairly in the streaming era went on strike early on Tuesday, May 2—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.”
atement, the union said, “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 Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers (AMPTP)—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.”
In some cases, the impact will be clear immediately. Late-night talk shows are going dark this week, for example, and NBC’s “Saturday Night Live” could nix this weekend’s episode. In other cases, the producers of scripted drama and comedy series may be forced to cut their seasons short or delay filming altogether.
The work stoppage comes amid intense economic and technological upheaval in Hollywood, which is grappling with the increasing dominance of streaming services, the decline of traditional broadcast viewership; and even the rise of artificial intelligence, which has stoked anxiety about the future of creative professions.
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 released on March 14 titled “Writers Are Not Keeping Up.”
In a video message posted on 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 oversea—have all but disappeared as more content is hosted exclusively on streaming platforms.
The union is facing issues that might have been unfathomable during the last strike, when Netflix was best known for shipping DVDs in red envelopes and traditional network television channels still generated mammoth ratings.
In one sign of the times, the WGA’s demands for this negotiation cycle include regulations for the “use of material produced using artificial intelligence or similar technologies.”
Research contact: @NBCNews