The Writers Guild goes on strike

With no deal struck by the end of Monday, we have our first writers work stoppage since 2007-08. Here's what you need to know.

The Writers Guild goes on strike
Striking WGA members in Century City, Los Angeles, Calif., in November 2007. / Wiki Commons

Welcome to a special edition of Popculturology covering the Writers Guild of America going on strike.

The WGA, the union that represents the people who write your favorite movies and TV shows, released this statement late Monday night:

Following the unanimous recommendation of the WGA Negotiating Committee, the Council of the Writers Guild of America, East (WGAE), and the Board of Directors of the Writers Guild of America West (WGAW) acting upon the authority granted to them by their memberships, have voted unanimously to call a strike, effective 12:01 a.m. Pacific Time, Tuesday, May 2.

The decision was made following six weeks of negotiations with Netflix, Amazon, Apple, Disney, Discovery-Warner, NBC Universal, Paramount and Sony under the umbrella of the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers (AMPTP). The WGA Negotiating Committee began this process intent on making a fair deal, but the studios’ responses have been wholly insufficient given the existential crisis writers are facing.

The companies’ behavior 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. From their refusal to guarantee any level of weekly employment in episodic television, to the creation of a “day rate” in comedy variety, to their stonewalling on free work for screenwriters and on AI for all writers, they have closed the door on their labor force and opened the door to writing as an entirely freelance profession. No such deal could ever be contemplated by this membership.

Picketing will begin tomorrow afternoon.

The WGA statement came shortly after AMPTP released their own statement saying that negotiations had ended.

It’s been over a decade since the last writers’ strike. That work stoppage, which ran from November 2007 to February 2008, changed the face of pop culture. Some shows had their episode order cut. Others never came back. (Wikipedia has a thorough breakdown of how things shook out.) It also cut writers in on the profits from what was at the time the new world of streaming content.

The 2007-08 strike lasted for over three months. No telling yet how long this current strike will last for, but it’ll have an immediate impact on our viewing habits, with the late-night shows likely going on hiatus (can’t write a show on a daily basis without writers) and Pete Davidson’s episode of Saturday Night Live scheduled for this weekend now in flux.

Popculturology is a free newsletter fueled by my love of pop culture. If you already are a subscriber, please consider becoming a supporter by upgrading your account.

Seth Meyers discussed what’s at stake for the writers at the end of last week’s episode of Corrections.

Here’s what other outlets were saying about the strike and the 2007-08 work stoppage in the days leading up to Monday night’s call:

TV’s Streaming Bubble Has Burst, a Writers Strike Looms, and “Everybody Is Freaking Out”

Joy Press and Natalie Jarvey, Vanity Fair

A lot of people within the industry knew that a reckoning was on its way. “This correction was necessary, and we’ve all been dreading it,” says another studio exec. For one thing, so many series were launched that even shows with marquee names have sunk beneath the waves. Do you remember the Julia Roberts series on Starz last year? What was it called? How about Samuel L. Jackson’s series on Apple TV+? And they were good shows.

Why Hollywood Writers Might Go on Strike

Xochitl Gonzalez, The Atlantic

The pivot to streaming, and the subsequent corporate consolidation, resulted in seismic changes: fewer buyers for content, shorter season orders for television programs, fewer feature films, the removal of older content from platforms, more licensed content from overseas. Above all, shows are being developed in new ways that have reduced the number of available jobs for screenwriters and cut into their salaries. Residuals, guild members say, have become nearly nonexistent. A handful of creators are raking in big bucks, but nearly half of all guild writers for TV write “at scale” — the writers’ equivalent of minimum wage — up from a third a decade ago.

How a writers’ strike might affect your favorite TV shows

Lisa Respers France, CNN

Many shows on both linear and streaming platforms work far enough ahead that new episodes are already written. That means a strike would have to run for awhile before viewers star missing their shows. Some platforms, like Netflix, have promised they’ll be able to offer new TV shows and movies for quite some time.

Tensions from the last writers’ strike cast a shadow over current labor fight

Meg James, Los Angeles Times

“It’s all about writers getting a fair share,” Daniel Kwan, the Oscar-winning writer and director of Everything Everywhere All at Once, wrote on Twitter. “It’s about maintaining a healthy middle/working class of writers in our industry. It’s about showing our collective strength as new tech threatens to take away our leverage.”

23 TV Shows Most Affected by 2007-08 Writers’ Strike

Beatrice Verhoeven, TheWrap

The strike cost fans two episodes of [Breaking Bad’s] first season. Also, Hank Schrader was supposed to have been killed off but the writers strike prevented production from doing so.
That’s the end of this edition of Popculturology. Thanks for reading the newsletter. If you already are a subscriber, please consider becoming a supporter by upgrading your account.