The backbone of America’s TV and film industry just walked off the job. Here’s how things might play out for viewers at home.
So Hollywood’s TV and film writers are going on strike. What do they want and when do they want it?
They want what everyone usually wants when they go on strike: more money. Writers complain that as the streaming era has been ushered in, their pay and conditions have downgraded to the point that they can barely scrape together a living. In a recent (and paywalled) New Yorker piece headlined Why are TV writers so miserable?, many call the situation “desperate”. One writer claims that if they don’t stand up and fight now, there’ll be nothing left to fight for. “This is an existential fight for the future of the business of writing,” they say.
How tough are some of these writers doing it?
Alex O’Keefe, a writer on The Bear – the acclaimed series about a stressful Chicago sandwich shop (it’s on Disney+ in New Zealand and definitely worth watching) – says power to his Brooklyn apartment was cut off and he was forced to move to a public library to craft the hit show. He told the BBC that when The Bear won a Writers Guild Award, he purchased a tuxedo on credit so he could attend the ceremony. “I wouldn’t classify all writers as being poor or broke but I can say myself I have $6 in my bank account,” he said.
How long is this strike likely to last?
That depends on whether or not the 11,000-odd writers that are on strike get what they want. The previous strike in 2007-08 lasted 100 days, caused an estimated $2.1 billion in damage to the economy, and affected hundreds of shows and movies with the ongoing affects felt for years.
Negotiations between the Writers Guild of America and the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers are underway now, and they’ll be desperately trying to avoid that scenario. But, with the rise of so many streaming services along with the absolute fire hose of content being made every year, this negotiation feels much more stressful and complicated. Vulture predicts it could be at least two months before it’s settled.
What are the biggest issues they’re battling over?
Lack of remuneration is the big one. Writers claim pay has dropped 4% – that’s 23% when adjusted for inflation – over the past 10 years. The expanding length of TV series in the streaming era is also a biggie, and they’re battling attitudes towards the increasing use of AI in writers’ rooms. Mini-rooms have also become a problem.
What’s a ‘mini-room’?
It’s the practice of hiring fewer writers and expecting them to do much more in the creation of that show, effectively blurring the lines between showrunners, producers and writers. “If showrunners have done most, if not all, of the heavy-lifting of story building in the ‘mini writers’ room, then there is less of a reason to keep them as the ‘voice’ of the show,” experienced showrunner Robert King told Variety. “They become one more cog in the creative process.”
Which TV shows will the strike affect first?
The most immediate threat is to late-night talk comedy shows like The Late Show With Stephen Colbert and Jimmy Kimmel Live – Many have already announced they won’t bother going to air without their writers, including Late Night With Seth Meyers and Last Week Tonight With John Oliver. The Daily Show has admitted it will soon begin airing reruns, making it not quite as daily as it used to be. (Vulture has the full list.) Topical shows that are written quickly before airing, like soap operas or comedies like Saturday Night Live, will find themselves in trouble next.
Well, that depends on how big the streaming era’s pipeline really is. We know that the bigger streaming services have their production schedules lined up and locked in years in advance. So it’s unlikely there’ll be an immediate impact on shows being released over the next few months. It’s towards the end of the year and into 2024 where you might start seeing the impact, with shorter seasons, decreasing quality and fewer shows being made. Streaming services may also start fighting over rights for international content not affected by the writers’ strike.
Is this going to affect Succession or Barry’s fourth and final seasons?
No. Both shows are fine. They’re finished. Writers have done their jobs (very, very well) already.
What happened when writers went on strike in 2007-08?
Bonkers stuff. John Stewart began writing his own scripts, often ad-libbing live on the fly. Conan O’Brien sat there spinning his wedding ring just to fill airtime. Breaking Bad, 30 Rock and Friday Night Lights had seasons cut short. James Bond himself, Daniel Craig, rewrote his own scripts on the set of the panned Bond film Quantum of Solace. “There was me trying to rewrite scenes – and a writer I am not,” he told TimeOut. Have you seen Michael Bay’s Transformers 2? The action maestro admitted his sequel was “crap” and blamed it on the strike. “It was just terrible to do a movie where you’ve got to have a story in three weeks,” The Guardian reported him as saying.
So what happened in the aftermath?
Cheaply-made reality TV became a very big deal. Shows like American Idol and The Amazing Race began getting big ratings because there was nothing else to watch. Kim Kardashian became a megastar thanks to her fly-on-the-wall reality show Keeping Up with the Kardashians. Some even blame the writers’ strike for pushing Donald Trump towards the presidency. The Apprentice was set to be axed, but was instead rebranded into The Celebrity Apprentice. The rest, unfortunately, is history.
So writing is important then?