Everything That’s At Stake in the WGA Strike
Issues abound, and we might be in for a long haul
Hollywood writers who belong to the Writers Guild of America (WGA) are on strike for the first time in 15 years after six weeks of negotiations with the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers (AMPTP) fell through, ending the WGA’s contract this week. At 12:01 a.m. PT May 2, approximately 11,500 writers put down their pens and walked off the job.
This strike shares similarities with the last WGA strike at the end of 2007. That strike lasted for 100 days from Nov. 5, 2007-Feb. 12, 2008. Back then, writers demanded compensation for their work on what the studios then called “new media”, now known as streaming.
This time, writers want residuals for shows shown on streaming services, but the threat of artigficial intelligence writing prompt software like ChatGPT is also looming over the industry, with studio heads saying they will attempt to use AI to write scripts in the writers’ absence.
Here’s a rundown of everything you need to know about the WGA strike.
What does the WGA want?
The WGA negotiates contract terms with the AMPTP every three years. The WGA’s contract proposals this round include better wages across the board for writers, a bigger cut of the profits for streaming shows and movies, a mandatory roster in writers’ rooms, better pension and healthcare benefits and stricter regulations on the use of AI in writing.
The AMPTP has rejected or refused to give a counteroffer on most of those proposals. On May 4, the AMPTP said that its offer amounts to more than double the annual pay raises that the WGA claims was offered and that the guild’s demand for mandatory staffing amounts to “a hiring quota that is incompatible with the creative nature of our industry,” per an article in Deadline.
According to the WGA’s calculations, Hollywood’s industry profits grew from $5 billion in 2000 to $28-$30 billion from 2017-2021. Streaming was a huge part of that increase. Industry spending on original streaming content went from $5 billion in 2019 to $19 billion in 2023. Netflix made up the biggest portion of that money. The streaming giant reported $6 billion in operating profits in 2021 and $5.6 billion in 2022.
The WGA’s proposals would get the writers about $429 million in total per year, according to the guild. The AMPTP’s counters would get writers an increase of about $86 million per year.
Writers are asking for viewership-based residuals (the better a show does, the more residuals a writer earns, similar to syndication and reruns with network TV) and greater transparency in how the services report streaming viewership numbers. The AMPTP rejected that proposal and refused to offer a counter.
What happened last time there was a strike?
If you watched shows like The Office, Friday Night Lights or Scrubs back in 2007, you’ll recall shorter seasons or a significant shift in off-the-rails plots since the strike happened mid-TV season. (Nnever forget that in season 2 of Friday Night Lights, Jesse Plemons’ Landry killed a guy, and it was never brought up again). The 100-day strike cost California’s economy about $2.1 billion.
The strike also impacted film production. Remember Quantum of Solace? Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen? Both had significant rewrites from directors or stars because of the lack of on-screen scribe to help answer script questions. Since movies are much more isolated events than TV shows, the film industry fared better, but still suffered.
Eventually, the WGA and AMPTP came to an agreement: Streamers would have to hire WGA writers on shows over certain budgets.
What will happen to the TV and movies I watch now?
Late-night shows and talk shows are always the first shows to feel the strain of writers’ strikes, since writers script those in advance, if not the day-of. Saturday Night Live and late-night shows will air reruns for the foreseeable future. Stephen Colbert and Seth Meyers, both WGA members, have voiced their support for the strike.
In 2007, an influx of reality TV helped ease the content gap. Since this strike is happening in May, after most network shows have wrapped up their spring finales, it won’t affect most weekly network shows. But for streaming shows, it very much depends on what you watch.
Season 2 of Yellowjackets is done, but the writers barely got started on season 3 before the strike started. Yellowstone’s goose is cooked for reasons wholly unrelated to the strike.
So, while this might not have much significance for viewers right now, this strike will have huge implications for the future of entertainment.
Who knows? Hopefully, a better, more equitable workforce amid this new streaming landscape. Warner Bros. CEO David Zaslav said recently on the company’s earnings call that he believes the writers’ “love for working” will end the strike, essentially boiling the corporate view of writers down to just mere cogs in a machine.
If that’s the stance among CEOs, we’re in for a long strike.