How the Writers Strike Will Affect TV

The Writers Guild of America (WGA) officially began its strike at midnight after negotiations between the guild and the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers (AMPTP) failed to yield a deal as the WGA’s three-year contract expired. The writers asked for a number of changes relating to their working conditions, compensation structure, and threats to their jobs including AI. Many of their demands relate to the ways in which streaming has completely transformed the way the industry operates.

The guild leadership told its members in a statement, “Here is what all writers know: the companies have broken this business. They have taken so much from the very people, the writers, who have made them wealthy. But what they cannot take from us is each other, our solidarity, our mutual commitment to save ourselves and this profession that we love.”

This is the first writers’ strike in 15 years. The last time it happened—beginning in late 2007—it lasted for 100 days. If the two parties can’t come to an agreement soon, the effects of this strike will be felt throughout Hollywood for months to come. It was announced on Monday that the West Coast chapter of the WGA will begin picketing today outside major studios in Los Angeles like Amazon, Disney, Netflix, Warner Bros., and more.

The guild laid out its bargaining points in a lengthy document that states the changes that need to be made to end the strike. Those demands include a TV staffing minimum which would range per show and depending on the amount of episodes, an assured number of weeks of employment per season, increased wages and streaming residuals, and regulation of AI. The AMPTP has provided some counter-offers, but as they did not meet the WGA’s demands, the strike went ahead.

So what does all of this mean for TV audiences in the near-term and in the future? The answer varies depending on the type and venue of the content. Here’s what to expect.

The good news: Streamers have content banked

The major streaming platforms have plenty of shows they can continue to release even if there are no projects in production. During an interview about Netflix’s first quarter 2023 earnings, Netflix co-CEO Ted Sarandos said point-blank that the company “doesn’t want a strike” and “want[s] to work really hard to make sure we can find a fair and equitable deal so we can avoid one.” But if there is one, he said, “we have a large base of upcoming shows and films from around the world [and] we could probably serve our members better than most… We do have a pretty robust slate of releases to take us into a long time.” Streamers like Netflix also have an increasingly global scale of production with shows like Squid Game produced outside of the U.S.

Meanwhile, Warner Bros. Discovery’s soon-to-be-rebranded Max seem to be in decent shape because it has a slate of programming stocked up in preparation for its launch as Discovery+ and HBO Max merge later this month. Given the streamers’ current position, the effects of a strike would not be felt until further into the future when upcoming series slated to begin production during the strike would have been set to debut.

The less good news: The fall network season could be postponed

For the most part, the current season of network television is wrapped. Popular shows like Law & Order and Abbot Elementary will finish their seasons as, according to USA TODAY, the shows have completed writing and filming for their finale episodes. But shows that would likely return or premiere in September, for which writing typically begins in May or June, according to Reuters, cannot begin work on new seasons or series. The timing of a fall TV season will depend on how long the strike lasts.

The worst news: SNL and late night shows will be impacted immediately

Late night talk show viewers will start to see the effects of the strike today, with those shows being the first stop producing episodes while the strike is underway. Shows that are timely and base their content around current events cannot produce new episodes without a writers room. Shows with considerable audiences including Jimmy Kimmel Live!, The Tonight Show With Jimmy Fallon, The Late Show With Stephen Colbert, and Late Night With Seth Meyers have already halted production and will air re-runs.

When the WGA went on strike in 2007, Conan O’Brien filled air time by spinning his wedding ring at his desk, taking viewers on a tour of the offices, and attempting to entertain viewers with anything that didn’t require the work of writers.

Although Saturday Night Live has three episodes scheduled for May before its 48th season concludes, with slated hosts including Pete Davidson, USA TODAY reports that they are done for the season.

How the Writers Strike Will Affect TV

The Unknown: Movies

Movies take, on average, about two to three years to produce. So while viewers will not see immediate effects of the strike on the big screen, we could begin to see them in about a year or two when movies that would be written or produced now would have been slated to release.

Even if film scripts are completed, the strike means writers will not be able to work on sets for rewrites or to punch up scripts. The James Bond movie Quantum of Solace was notoriously impacted by the inability to have writers on set, with Daniel Craig later saying the movie was “f-cked.” “There was me trying to rewrite scenes—and a writer I am not.”

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