Hollywood Writers Go on Strike as WGA, Studios Fail to Reach Deal

AMPTP announced in a statement that the two sides ended talks without an agreement

WGA on strike
The WGA authorized a strike in April with its contract with the studios set to expire May 1.

The Writers Guild of America sent on strike Tuesday in what is the entertainment industry’s first strike in 15 years after the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers said it had not reached a deal with the WGA ahead of the midnight deadline.

“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,” the WGA said in a statement, adding picketing would begin Tuesday. “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 statement came shortly after the WGA sent an email to members informing them that picket lines will begin on Tuesday afternoon if a deal was not reached. The studios then also released a statement.

“Negotiations between the AMPTP and the WGA concluded without an agreement today,” read the studio reps’ statement. “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.

“The AMPTP also indicated to the WGA that it is prepared to improve that offer, but was unwilling to do so because of the magnitude of other proposals still on the table that the Guild continues to insist upon,” the statement continued. “The primary sticking points are ‘mandatory staffing,’ and ‘duration of employment’ — Guild proposals that would require a company to staff a show with a certain number of writers for a specified period of time, whether needed or not.”

The WGA said studios had created “a gig economy inside a union workforce.”

“Their immovable stance in this negotiation has betrayed a commitment to further devaluing the profession of writing,” the WGA said. “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.”

Talks between the sides began on March 20 with a variety of issues set to be addressed. Foremost among them was the issue of compensation for streaming TV shows and films and the abuse of mini-rooms, a recent practice in which studios require writers with a TV show pitch to assemble a writers room at scale pay to produce scripts before the pitch is even greenlit.

The WGA also argued on its contract negotiations website that an increasing share of writers were working at scale pay due to various factors, including shorter episode orders for streaming series. The WGA was also seeking significant changes to the pay structure of late night comedy and variety shows produced for streaming services.

On April 17, more than 9,000 WGA members voted to authorize their leaders to order a strike if a deal was not met in a display of unity in demanding drastic change. But individuals with knowledge of the talks told TheWrap that the WGA and AMPTP negotiating committees remained far apart on several key issues even in the final days of talks.

While Hollywood studios have stockpiled scripts that could potentially be produced without the presence of writers, the vast majority of productions will now be shuttered as writers are usually needed on during production for consultation on scenes or to do rewrites if logistical problems prevent a scene from being shot as written.

The writers strike also means that all of the late-night TV shows will promptly shut down, including “Saturday Night Live,” “The Late Show With Stephen Colbert,” “The Tonight Show With Jimmy Fallon” and “Jimmy Kimmel Live,” among others. During the 2007-08 writers strike, late-night shows went off the air for two months before resuming in January 2008 without writers, prompting objections from the WGA.

That strike would end on February 12, 2008, lasting 100 days. It is unclear whether this strike will last that long, but it is likely that it will last at least through the next two months as the AMPTP is scheduled to begin contract negotiations with the Directors Guild of America on May 10 and SAG-AFTRA on June 7. The current bargaining agreements for both of those unions expires on June 30.

In the meantime, networks and streamers preparing for upfronts in May will find their work disrupted, as writers rooms for fall TV shows usually begin their work in early summer. Depending on how long the strike lasts, this could have a rippling effect on how many new shows studios have to present on network and cable channels as well as streaming, though the latter will have a significant amount of content stockpiled.