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Writers' strike reaches third month with no agreement

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Photo by Chris Pizzello / AP
Photo by Chris Pizzello / AP

On May 2, 2023, writers affiliated with the Writers Guild of America stepped out of their offices, exchanged their pencils for picket signs, and initiated the second such strike in America in 15 years.

The strike was a long time coming, but since the studios refused to meet their demands for fair wages from streaming services and increased staffing, the members of the WGA felt it was time to take action.

Three months later, 11,000 film, television, news, radio, and online writers are still out of work.

"Though we negotiated intent on making a fair deal — and though your strike vote gave us the leverage to make some gains — the studios' responses to our proposals have been wholly insufficient, given the existential crisis writers are facing," the WGA said in an announcement. "We must now exert the maximum leverage possible to get a fair contract by withholding our labor."

Streaming services change the way work gets done
As streaming services have continued to change how Americans consume content, they have also changed how writers make a living. Shows produced by services such as Netflix, HBO, Hulu, and Amazon Prime have a much lower renewal rate than those for cable television, where shows can often run for five or more seasons. With the increase in demand for quick, bingeable programs and the brutal slashing of anything that doesn't receive Euphoria-level numbers in its premiere week, more and more writers are scrambling for jobs.

They also don't receive high residual pay for the work they produce when it's aired via streaming services. Based on money writers are paid for the original work, they are typically also given a percentage in residuals each time their project is aired as a rerun. According to the WGA, "residuals are compensation paid for the reuse of a credited writer's work. When you receive credit on produced Guild-covered material, you are entitled to compensation if the material is reused." However, streaming services, which provide thousands of hours of rerun material, pay writers mere cents for their residuals.

Writers like Valentina Garza, who has worked on Only Murders in the Building, Wednesday, and Jane the Virgin, went viral earlier this summer when she shared two residual checks she received for episodes of Jane the Virgin. "One for .01 [cents] another for .02. I think the streamers can do better," she wrote on Twitter.

Streaming shows are also not included in the Minimum Basic Agreement, which established a universal minimum wage for television and film writers. This means that those who work for a show that is exclusively streamed must negotiate individually with the streaming company that employs them. This often leads writers who do the same work as those working for cable to be paid much less.

Concerns include staffing, AI
The strikers also want fuller writers' rooms. Many productions have begun using "mini-rooms," meaning they hire fewer writers for less time in order to cut production costs. Not only does this mean less pay and fewer job opportunities for many in the WGA, but it also means that those who can find jobs are overworked. Therefore, another part of the contract they hope to work out is a "minimum staffing agreement," meaning that an agreed-upon minimum number of writers will be used for projects. Those would also have a set duration of employment, which will help provide more job security.

Writers are also concerned about new artificial intelligence in film and television production, so they hope to extract a promise from studios to only use programs like ChatGPT as a tool to aid writers, and not something to replace them.

Before the strike began, the WGA attempted to negotiate with the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers for six weeks, demanding higher compensation. Its original proposal would have cost the studios $429 million. The studios countered with an offer of just $86 million.

Photo by Chris Pizzello / AP  

After two months of the strike, which delayed and canceled many major Hollywood projects, the SAG-AFTRA actors union joined. Members of the Screen Actors Guild and American Federation of Television and Radio Arts, including President Fran Drescher, had been picketing along with writers in front of studios since the first day of the strike. Many prominent Hollywood actors have noted that without writers, they wouldn't have a job.

The financial burden of striking
The dual strikes have impacted workers of all kinds, not just writers and actors. Hair and makeup artists, set designers, animal trainers, and craft service workers are also out of work.

Writers have begun auctioning off television memorabilia to raise money for those now without income. Abbi Jacobson, writer and creator of Broad City and A League of Their Own, auctioned off a dress worn by her sitcom character earlier this year to help raise money for the strikers.

Actor Billy Porter also recently spoke out about the financial burden the strike is causing him. "I have to sell my house," he told The Evening Standard. "The life of an artist, until you make 'fuck-you money' — which I haven't made yet — is still check to check," the Pose star continued.

On Tuesday, August 15, the WGA and SAG-AFTRA met with the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers, and both sides were reportedly willing to negotiate. While the AMPTP has agreed to increase residuals, previous talks between WGA chief negotiator Ellen Stutzman and the AMPTP stalled due to the latter's refusal to institute a minimum staffing level and guaranteed minimum number of weeks of employment for episodic television writers. The WGA is still committed to fighting for these issues.

"Negotiations between the AMPTP and the WGA concluded without an agreement today," the AMPTP said in a press statement Tuesday night. "The AMPTP presented a comprehensive package proposal to the Guild last night, which included generous increases in compensation for writers as well as improvements in streaming residuals."

Your favorite show put on hold
As the strikes continue, projects of all shapes and sizes remain on hiatus. The first to halt were live and late-night programs, like The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon, Late Night with Seth Meyers, The Daily Show, and The Amber Ruffin Show, which halted programming immediately, as did Saturday Night Live, which ended its 49th season without a finale.

While unscripted television, like game shows and reality programs, often flourish during writers' strikes, Jeopardy! is also impacted. Host Mayim Bialik decided to step down in solidarity with the strikers. The program continued using interim host Ken Jennings.

Many streaming and cable series are delayed until further notice. Amazon Prime's 1923 season 2 is "delayed indefinitely" until the strike ends. Because filming for the series was set to begin in June 2023, it is likely production on the latest season won't occur for another year.

NBC's hit comedy Abbott Elementary is also delaying its third season. The show's first writers' room was set to meet on May 2, the first day of the strike. Now the season remains on hold indefinitely.

Production of Netflix's American Horror Story is also suspended, though mostly due to production workers standing in solidarity with writers. According to Deadline, trucks headed for the New York City set saw picketers and immediately turned around.

Live-action programs aren't the only ones affected. Nick Kroll's hilariously Queer adult cartoon Big Mouth has halted its season 8 writer's room. The series was six weeks into writing when the strike started.

Even Disney is feeling the effects of the strikes. Disney Channel's longest-running live-action series BUNK'D has also stopped filming. Twelve of the latest season's 20 episodes were already filmed when the first strike started, however.

Much to the chagrin of Euphoria fans, who are already feeling a loss after the death of star Angus Cloud, the third season's release date has moved back. Now, the earliest anyone can expect to see Hunter Schafer and Zendaya on screen together again is 2025.

While fans of Outlander are enjoying the steamy seventh season, the series' executive producer Maril Davis announced that even though the writers have finished their scripts for the final eighth season, they will delay production until the strikes end.

More hotly awaited series finales have also paused until agreements can be reached. Netflix's Stranger Things released an official statement about production delays. "Writing does not stop when filming begins," wrote the Duffer brothers. "While we're excited to start production with our amazing cast and crew, it is not possible during this strike. We hope a fair deal is reached soon so we can all get back to work."

HBO's latest Queer-related hit, The Last of Us, has stopped all work. The series was in the middle of casting actors for roles for the second season, but without scripts, the actors had to read lines from the video game the show is based on.

Another drama with Queer characters, Yellowjackets, has announced a delay. "We had exactly one day in the writers' room," creator Ashely Lyle said on Twitter the day the strike started. "It was amazing and creatively invigorating, and so much fun, and I'm very excited to get back to it as soon as the WGA gets a fair deal."

Many actors and writers have begun streaming new podcasts for anyone looking to binge more content while they wait for the strikes to end.