What’s at Stake If Hollywood Writers Strike: Late Night, Scripted TV, Time Warner Deal

AT&T’s acquisition of Time Warner is just one thing that could be impacted by a work stoppage by Hollywood writers

strike wga

A billion-dollar merger, a devastating TV ratings drop and hundreds of millions of dollars are at stake as a writers’ strike looms if the Writers Guild of America cannot negotiate a new contract with the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers when the current pact expires at midnight on May 1.

Lest you forget, the 100-day strike in 2007 resulted in the loss of 25 percent of primetime scripted programming for the 2007-08 broadcast season, according to a letter sent to shareholders from the WGA, and at least $380 million in losses (some reports even say the losses were up to $2.1 billion).

Movies like “X-Men: Origins: Wolverine” and “Transformers: The Revenge of the Fallen” were affected, while TV series like “30 Rock” and “ER” had fewer episodes.

Contract negotiations between the two sides over the weekend and many expect that it will go down to the wire — and possibly extend beyond the deadline.

The writers’ union voted last month to authorize a strike should its negotiating team fail to reach a deal with the AMPTP.

So what would be the impact of a strike should the WGA call for one? Well, all writing for television, feature films and digital series would come to an immediate stop. TheWrap breaks down the impact below.

1. Late Night Shows

The first shows impacted are likely to be late-night staples like “The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon,” “The Daily Show,” “Jimmy Kimmel Live,” “Saturday Night Live.” And with the influx of cable offerings, there are many more late-night shows now than a decade ago.

Some shows could get by with more interviews and musical guests — but scripted skits or monologues would be limited to jokes written and performed by the host — or by writers willing to cross a picket line.

2. Daytime Soap Operas

More than half of the network daytime dramas have been canceled since the last writers strike, but the four that remain — NBC’s “Days of Our Lives,” ABC’s “General Hospital,” and CBS’ “The Young and the Restless” and “The Bold and the Beautiful” — all depend on writers cranking out scripts on a nearly constant basis.

In 2007-08, the soaps relied on so-called “financial core” writers to cross the picket line, the New York Times wrote at the time, and those scribes were joined by assistant directors, errand runners and others working off each show’s story “bible.”

The impact this year would vary. “Days of Our Lives” typically films as much as six months in advance, while other soaps work as little as three weeks ahead of air date.

3. Fall TV Shows – and the Start of the New Season

New seasons of many scripted shows like HBO’s “Game of Thrones” and Netflix’s “Stranger Things” have already been banked or are well into production and can finish without additional rewrites. But writers typically begin their work in May or June for the fall broadcast season, so a strike would delay the start of work and could postpone the fall premieres.

If a strike were to drag on,  networks and producers may scale back the number of episodes for the season as they did in 2007-08.

4. Reruns, Sports and Reality Shows

In the absence of new programming, networks may have to rely on reruns and unscripted reality show to fill out their schedules.

That may give an advantage to networks like CBS that has lots of procedural shows like “NCIS” and “Hawaii 5-0” that are more easily repeatable than episodic shows like ABC’s “Grey’s Anatomy.”

5. Ratings

According to a letter sent by the WGA to the shareholders of the AT&T/Time Warner merger, the 100-day strike in November 2007 resulted “in the loss of almost 25 percent of primetime scripted programming for the 2007-2008 broadcast season. During the strike, the broadcast networks quickly ran out of new episodes to air and were forced to air reruns and increased amounts of reality programming.”

The letter added, “During the three months most affected by the strike, the major broadcast networks’ ratings declined, on average, by double digits compared to the same period in 2007. The strike-impacted ratings forced NBC to return money to advertisers rather than offer make-goods.”

The WGA believes the ratings would see a similar affect this year.

6. Feature Films

Feature films require a much longer lead time than TV, but even studio product could be impacted if a strike drags on. Studios will be unable to order routine script rewrites and polishes and might have to settle with an early draft that they didn’t intend to be the final one.
According to the Los Angeles Times, when the 2007 strike loomed, almost every studio rushed to lock down finished scripts, and almost every studio had at least two films on the schedule that had trouble meeting the accelerated deadline.

Fox, for example, issued an “urgent SOS to the major agencies looking for a quick rewrite person” to get the script for “X-Men Origins: Wolverine” into shape so that the film could start shooting in time for its release. Shooting wrapped one month later.

7. Streaming Services

If networks (including streaming giants like Netflix and Hulu) are unable to produce new episodes, the biggest beneficiaries may be services with deep archives of content that have benefited from the era of peak TV — particularly those able to schedule programming from overseas that is unaffected by the strike.

So audiences eager for new programming may decide to just play catch up with all the movies and shows that they had put off binge-watching.

8. AT&T/Time Warner Merger

According to the WGA, a strike could have significant impact on both earnings and AT&T’s pending $85 billion acquisition of Time Warner in a deal that would combine assets including the Warner Bros. studio, CNN, HBO, DirecTV and AT&T Wireless in one massive conglomerate.

“A writer’s strike could undermine AT&T’s primary reason for acquiring Time Warner, which is ownership of compelling content,” WGA West director David Young wrote in the letter sent on Thursday, obtained by TheWrap. “A strike could also delay any potential shareholder benefits from the acquisition.”