Advanced Television

Writers’ strike could mean content shortage

May 2, 2023

The Writers Guild of America (WGA) has called its first strike in 15 years after failing to reach an agreement on higher pay from broadcasters and studios.

A WGA statement said: “The companies’ behaviour has created a gig economy inside a union workforce, and their immovable stance in this negotiation has betrayed a commitment to further devaluing the profession of writing.”

Talking to Deadline, the president of WGA West, Meredith Stiehm, said writers were facing “an existential threat”, adding: “We’ve been here for six weeks talking to them and those core proposals were literally ignored. And we made it very clear to them that 98 per cent of our membership is demanding that we fight for something different; not just the usual negotiation that we’ve been having … and it just fell on deaf ears.”

The WGA has over 11,000 members in Los Angeles and elsewhere. The Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers (AMPTP), which represents the studios, said late on May 1st it had offered “generous increases in compensation” to writers, but that the two sides were unable to reach a deal.

Writers say they have suffered financially during the TV streaming boom, partly because of shorter seasons and smaller residual payments. Half of TV series writers now work at minimum salary levels, compared with one-third in 2013-14, according to guild statistics. Median pay for scribes at the higher writer/producer level has fallen 4 per cent over the last decade.

AI is another on the table. The WGA wants safeguards to prevent studios from using AI to generate new scripts from writers’ previous work. Writers also want to ensure they are not asked to rewrite draft scripts created by AI.

The first disruption will come with the late-night US shows such as Jimmy Kimmel Live and The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon, which use teams of writers for their topical jokes and are expected to immediately stop production. Further ahead, writing for the autumn season of shows normally starts in May or June.

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