NEW YORK (AP) — The first Hollywood strike in 15 years began Tuesday as economic pressures from the streaming era prompted unionized TV and film writers to strike for better pay outside the major studios, which already dominate most late-night shows. Re-broadcast.
“No contracts, no content!” Sign-carrying members of the Writers Guild of America chanted outside a Manhattan building where NBCUniversal was announcing its Peacock streaming service to advertisers.
About 11,500 film and television writers represented by the union put down their pens and laptops after failing to reach a new contract with the trade association representing Hollywood studios and production companies.
The union is seeking demands such as a higher minimum wage, more writers per show and shorter exclusivity contracts — which it says have fallen short of the content boom driven by streaming.
“There’s too much work and not enough pay,” said protester Sean Crespo, a 46-year-old writer whose credits include the former TBS show “Full Frontal With Samantha Bee.”
Depending on how long the strike lasts, the labor dispute could have a cascading effect on TV and film production, and streaming services are under growing pressure from Wall Street to show profitability.
Just as the 2007 writers’ strike lasted 100 days, midnight television was the first to feel the fallout.
All the great late-night shows, staffed by writers writing monologues and jokes for their hosts, went dark immediately. NBC’s “The Tonight Show,” Comedy Central’s “Daily Show,” ABC’s Jimmy Kimmel Live, CBS’s “The Late Show” and NBC’s “Late Night” all made reruns throughout the week.
NBC’s “Saturday Night Live” was scheduled to air a new episode Saturday, and will go dark and rerun instead.
“Everyone, including myself, is hopeful that both sides will reach an agreement. But I don’t think the writers’ demands are unreasonable,” host Stephen Colbert said on the “Late Show” on Monday.
“This country owes a lot to unions,” Colbert said. “Unions are the reason we have weekends, and the reason we have TGI Fridays.”
Among those protesting in New York on Tuesday were playwright Tony Kushner (“The Fablemans”) and “Topsick” creator Danny Strong.
The impact of the strike on scripted serials and films will take longer to notice. If the strike lasts through the summer, fall TV schedules may be bumped up. Meanwhile, those who have finalized the scripts are allowed to continue shooting.
During the 2007 strike, late-night anchors eventually returned to broadcasting and improvised their way through the shows. “Tonight” host Jay Leno angered WGA leadership when he began writing his own monologues.
A late-night show is never dark. Fox News’ “Cutfeld!” Fox said Tuesday that it will continue to air new episodes with Greg Gutfeld.
The Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers, which represents studios and production companies, said it would offer a “generous increase in writers’ compensation and improvements to streaming residuals.”
The trade association said in a statement that it was willing to upgrade its offer “but was unwilling to do so given the number of other proposals still on the table that the Guild continues to push for.”
A shutdown has been widely predicted for months. Last month the writers voted overwhelmingly to approve the strike, with 98% membership support. Writers say their pay hasn’t kept up with inflation, TV writers’ rooms have shrunk so much that the old calculation of how those who remain are paid must be redrawn..
Streaming has exploded the number of series and movies produced annually, which means more job opportunities for writers. But writers say they’re doing less than they used to when they’re working under more difficult conditions. “The companies’ behavior has created a gig economy within a unionized workforce,” the WGA said.
The union is demanding higher compensation for forward writers. That’s because many payers that have historically profited from the back end — like syndication and international licensing — have largely been phased out by the onset of streaming.
The studios’ trade association said Monday that the primary sticking points in the deal were so-called small rooms — the guild seeks a minimum number of writers per writer’s room — and the length of employment contracts.
The Writers Guild says writers need more flexibility in the timing of contracts for shorter-running series than the once-standard 20-plus episode broadcast season. They’re also seeking more restrictions around the use of artificial intelligence, which the writers say could give producers a shortcut to ending a WGA writer’s job.
“Understand that our fight is the same fight that’s coming up next to your professional field: It’s devaluing human effort, skill, and talent in favor of automation and profits,” said writer-director Justin Bateman.
Many studios and production companies are cutting costs. The Walt Disney Company is cutting 7,000 jobs. Warner Bros. Discovery is cutting costs to reduce its debt. Netflix has disrupted spending growth.
With the exodus long anticipated, writers rushed to get scripts and studios scrambled to prepare their pipelines to churn out content for at least a short period of time. But the loss to local economies could be substantial. It is estimated that Los Angeles lost $2.1 billion in economic output during the last strike.
David Zaslau, chief executive of Warner Bros. Discovery, said last month that “we assume the worst from a business perspective.” “We are ready. We have a lot of content produced.
Foreign series may also fill some of the void. “We have a huge platform of upcoming shows and movies from around the world,” Netflix co-CEO Ted Sarandos said on the company’s earnings call in April.
The WGA strike may be just the beginning. Both the Directors Guild of America and the actors’ union SAG-AFTRA have contracts that expire in June. Some of the issues surrounding streaming’s business model will factor into those bargaining sessions.
The Actors’ Union on Tuesday encouraged its members to join the writers’ strike in solidarity. ___
Aron Ranen and David Bauder contributed to this report.
Follow AP film writer Jake Coyle on Twitter: http://twitter.com/jakecoyleAP