How would a writers strike affect TV shows Heres what.jpgw1440

How would a writers’ strike affect TV shows? Here’s what you should know.

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For the past 15 years, Aaron Rahsaan Thomas has kept the shirt in pristine condition in the top right corner of his drawer. It’s moved twice with him, from the Los Angeles duplex where he lived as a junior writer on “Friday Night Lights,” to the two-story craftsman home he lives in now. It’s stayed in the same place since the birth of two daughters and throughout the development of the CBS action drama he created, SWAT — the red t-shirt he wore for almost the entire 100-day Hollywood writers’ strike in 2007.

The shirt is both a testament to the career he’s built and a promise to keep it alive.

Thomas, who has spoken about the impact of the strike on his work, may be donning this shirt as early as next month.

How a Hollywood writers’ strike can derail a great TV show

Hollywood is on the brink of a strike that could shut down the industry after members of the Writers’ Guild overwhelmingly approved a strike earlier this week.

The Writers Guild of America announced Monday that nearly 98 percent of WGA voting members, more than 9,000 writers, have approved the potential strike — which would be the first strike in 15 years — if the union fails to reach a deal with the Alliance of Motion can negotiate Picture and Television Producers representing Hollywood production companies.

The last time the guild sanctioned a strike was in 2017, but the WGA and studios were able to agree on a deal in the 11th hour. The last agreement was concluded in 2019. This year’s strike authorization vote had the highest approval rating and turnout in WGA history.

The studios and networks have less than two weeks to come to an agreement and avert a halt to work.

Hollywood writers say the heart of their demands is an existential problem: In an era of high-end television, can writers still make a living?

Companies have used the transition to streaming as an excuse to undervalue writers, the WGA said, “making working conditions for series writers at all levels worse,” while streaming services like Netflix are benefiting. The guild’s goals for the new contract include raising minimum wages for writers and ensuring that compensation and residuals for writers whose projects only appear on streaming services are paid in line with those whose work is in theaters .

Other demands from the union include regulating the use of artificial intelligence to write screenplays and resolving payment issues for mini-rooms, which ask writers to work on a show in pre-production or before the series is shot.

“Our membership has spoken,” the WGA said in an announcement. “Writers have expressed our collective strength, solidarity, and demand for meaningful change in overwhelming numbers.”

The AMPTP expressed its commitment to a “fair and reasonable settlement” in a statement: “A settlement is only possible if the guild commits to keep its focus on serious negotiations by engaging in full discussions of the issues involved with the companies and then seeks sensible compromises.”

David Slack, a writer and consulting producer on the drama series Magnum PI and a former board member of WGA West, said the vote is a necessary measure to urge production companies to be more accessible in the negotiation process.

“The power to withhold our labor is the only means we have to get studios to pay us what is fair,” he said. “Our products are the basis for all the billions in revenue these entertainment companies generate, and we need to be compensated for that.”

Slack was a writer for Law & Order when he joined his fellow unionists on strike in 2007. He almost went bankrupt back then, but Slack said he would do it again for fair compensation.

“I still hope we don’t have to go on strike,” Slack said. “But writing should be a viable career … one that allows you to start a family, buy a house, and build money for retirement.” And it’s worth fighting for.”

The kind of advancement that writers like Thomas and Slack have experienced in their careers — the rise from writers to producers and showrunners — is much more difficult to achieve today than it was a decade ago. Though there are more writing jobs, they have decreased dramatically in quality, Thomas said.

Brittani Nichols knew she was signing up for hard, lackluster work when she moved to Los Angeles at 22. Nichols, who is now a writer and producer on the hit ABC show Abbott Elementary, shared her first apartment with four other people: a family of three who slept on an air mattress in the living room, and another roommate.

In those early days, her commute to work took two hours because she didn’t have a car and relied on Los Angeles’ public transit system. She worked various side jobs to make enough money just to catch the bus – worked as an extra and did marketing consulting research. All the money she could scrape together, she reinvested into her writing career, she said, “Because I knew it was the only way to get this job that would put me on stable ground.”

And like many other young writers, Nichols accepted this as a growing pain.

“I just thought that’s just part of it. That’s what it means to be a broke artist,” Nichols said. “If you persevere and are good at your job, middle-class life is on the other side.”

“But with studios cutting salaries and making it impossible to build a career, there’s increasingly nothing for writers on the other side,” she said. “It’s just this eternal struggle.” The career paths that were available to her back then have progressively disappeared.

It used to be that writing on a hit show could set you up for that year until the next season aired, Nichols said. Before streaming’s popularity exploded, TV seasons were longer — around 22 episodes — and there were fewer limited series options than now. Not only are today’s shows shorter, they also take longer to produce, increasing the amount of time a writer has to live off last season’s paycheck — if their show gets renewed at all.

With so many writing opportunities essentially becoming gig jobs, writers have also struggled to acquire the kind of skills and experience that prepare them to take on more lucrative roles as producers and showrunners. According to the latest WGA data, only half of its members earn more than the minimum contractual wage for their work — in 2013, two-thirds of authors did.

“This is not an industry built for people without money,” Nichols said.

How much a writers’ strike in 2023 will affect this year’s television and film production largely depends on how long a strike lasts.

Viewers are unlikely to notice any impact on aired shows, many of which have already written and filmed their final episodes. The same applies to streaming shows, which have longer lead times than broadcast series. But an extended strike could push back when those shows air again. The same goes for films, especially those set to be released in the next two years. It’s also unclear if unionized actors would be willing to cross the picket lines to film these projects.

The effects of the 2007 writers’ strike were widely felt. Popular TV shows like 30 Rock, Friday Night Lights, Big Bang Theory, Grey’s Anatomy, and Heroes cut their seasons short. Daytime soaps hired non-union writers. Late-night presenters improvised without their regular writing staff and grew beards in solidarity during the strike. Other shows, such as 24 and Entourage, halted production entirely and postponed their seasons. The impact of the strike also spilled over onto the big screen, affecting Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen, X-Men Origins: Wolverine and Terminator Salvation, among others. The 100-day work stoppage cost the city of Los Angeles an estimated $4.5 billion in today’s dollars.

But unlike the 2007 strike, when there was debate among writers about how streaming might affect their livelihoods, this time there’s more unity and less infighting among writers, say industry veterans.

“I’ve never seen so much clarity on the issues that need to be addressed and so much consensus that they need to be addressed now,” Thomas said.

As the contract deadline approaches, people across the industry are scrambling to complete projects, close deals, and close production.

“We’re all planning as if the strike is going to happen,” Elsa Ramo, a managing partner at a Hollywood law firm, told Vanity Fair earlier this month. “Our perspective is how can we continue to get things done if and when the strike happens?”

However, Nichols does not change their plans. The Abbott Elementary season finale airs tonight – one she wrote. She knows the costs of a walkout: the loss of income and job security, the potential loss of a career, the delay or abandonment of projects. The Abbott Elementary writers are expected to begin work on Season 3 on May 1 — the same day the contract expires. The risk of losing your job during a strike is worth it for you and others, she said.

“Eventually I’ll either quit the job and try to pursue something else, or the show will end or be cancelled,” she said. “Then here’s a job I have to do. And right now, the chances of this job getting any good are incredibly slim.”