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Writers strike enters second month

The TV streaming wars led to the work stoppage

Actors Amy Aquino (left) and Michael Kajganich (right) join writer Steve Skrovan at a Writers Guild rally outside Warner Bros. Studios, Monday, May 22. Associated Press/Photo by Chris Pizzello

Writers strike enters second month

Fans of late-night talk shows are already watching reruns because of the Hollywood writers strike, the effects of which are expected to spread to other types of radio, TV, and online programming in the coming months.

Sixteen years have passed since the last writers strike, which followed the rise of DVDs. Now, more than 11,500 members of the Writers Guild of America are on strike for a similar technological development: streaming.

“Streaming has changed the economy of film and television forever,” writer and producer Howie Klausner said. “The producers and creators are less in partnership than we used to be. Back then, DVDs were a big deal. They’re not a big deal anymore.”

The Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers is negotiating with other Hollywood unions this summer, including the directors guild and the actors guild, whose contract expires on June 30.

“There’s no plans for them to meet with the writers. There’s been no negotiation with us,” said Dean Batali, who wrote for That ’70s Show and Buffy the Vampire Slayer. “And I’m not sure that they’re even going to be in the same room with our negotiating committee until the middle of July. So that makes me just kind of pessimistic that it’s going to end anytime soon.”

The strike began due to the sudden rise in popularity of streaming services. The Writer’s Guild negotiating committee in the letter announcing the strike emphasized the need for “protections to ensure that writing survives as a sustainable profession.” As accessibility to TV shows on streaming platforms has increased, the WGA argues that payments for writers have fallen behind the curve.

“I used to get paid a certain amount every time a show repeated, anytime it showed up on local TV channels,” Batali said. “Nowadays, writers are not getting paid anywhere near that for very successful shows that are on streaming. Writers do deserve to be paid more than they’re currently getting.”

The producers’ alliance negotiates the writers’ annual fee on behalf of various studios rather than making contracts with each individual writer in the guild. With streaming, residual payments are not based on the number of times an episode is viewed. Instead, writers receive a fixed annual fee that takes into account the number of subscribers of the streaming platform. Large companies such as Netflix and Disney want to keep their streaming numbers and hours private to stymie competitors.

Hollywood writers are also worried about how advances in artificial intelligence will affect their jobs. They have asked the powerful producers’ trade group to guarantee that AI won’t be used to write new material or to adapt literary works.

A month after the strike began on May 2, Hollywood is feeling the effects.

“It not only affects the people who are striking, it affects the rest of the support crew, the camera operators, caterers, florists, and clothing shops. It really has a big effect on the economy,” Batali said. “Especially as a Christian, I want to be sensitive to the fact that this isn’t just us trying to get our fair share. It also affects a lot of people.”

Batali encourages Christians to pray that the spirit of God is represented in the negotiations and that the sides will reach a fair deal. He said he has seen many conservatives rejoice over the strike because “now all the horrible stuff coming out of Hollywood can’t come out.”

“There’s a lot of Christians here in Hollywood. And we’re trying to affect change and be a part of things,” Batali said. “So I think that the prayer should be that we could get back to work and start making better content. I’m sensitive to the people who don’t like the content out of Hollywood, but just understand that some of us here are trying to make it better.”

Tobin Jacobson

Tobin Jacobson is a student at Patrick Henry College and the World Journalism Institute.


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