The unions representing thousands of movie and television writers went on strike Tuesday, bringing much production to a halt. It is the first Hollywood strike since 2007. The first picket lines are planned for Tuesday afternoon.
Here is what you need to know.
Why are the writers striking?
Every three years, the East and West branches of the Writers Guild of America represent 11,500 writers of TV and film to negotiate a new contract with the major Hollywood studios. The negotiations this time were long expected to be fraught.
Television production has grown rapidly over the past decade, as media companies have invested billions into streaming services. But the writers have said that their compensation has stagnated. W.G.A. leaders have said the current system is broken, arguing that the “the survival of writing as a profession is at stake in this negotiation.”
How far apart are the two sides?
Based on what both sides had to say late Monday in the hours before the strike began, there is still a wide gap between what the writers want and what the studios are willing to offer. The Hollywood companies said their offer included “generous increases in compensation for writers.” The unions accused the studios of holding to an “immovable stance” in talks that has “betrayed a commitment to further devaluing the profession of writing.”
How will this affect viewers?
Late night shows, including “Saturday Night Live,” and series, like “The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon,” “The Late Show With Stephen Colbert” and “Jimmy Kimmel Live!,” will probably go dark. Seth Meyers, NBC’s 12:30 a.m. host, alluded to going off the air in a web-only segment late last week, saying, “If you don’t see me here next week, know that it is something that is not done lightly, and that I will be heartbroken to miss you as well.”
During the 2007 strike, the late night hosts stayed off the air for two months. Soap operas, already an endangered genre, will run out of new episodes after a month.
If the strike is prolonged, viewers will begin to notice a dip in new TV series, though that will not become apparent until the end of the year. Reality series as well as international shows will begin playing in heavy rotation.
It will take a lengthy strike for the movie pipeline to be affected, because of the long production times. Film studios work about a year in advance; most of the movies scheduled for release this year have already been shot.
Are the writers united?
Historically, yes. There have been decades-long tensions between writers and the studios, with writers often feeling like second-class citizens, especially when compared with actors and directors. In mid-April, more than 9,000 writers authorized a strike with 98 percent of the vote.
Screenwriters have walked out several times, and they have had the stomach for long strikes in the past. The 2007 strike lasted 100 days. The longest strike, in 1988, dragged on for 153 days.
What are the writers’ complaints?
The writers have said there were several issues that were vital to them in this negotiation, including putting up guardrails about artificial intelligence. But compensation is the most crucial issue to them.
They have argued that the streaming world has eroded their working conditions. Many streaming shows have 8-12 episodes per season, compared with the more than 20 episodes made for traditional television.
Writers are fighting for better residual pay — a type of royalty for reruns and other showings — which they have said is a critical source of income for the middle-class writer that has been upended by streaming.
They are also fighting what they describe as “abuses” of so-called mini-rooms. There’s no one definition of a mini-room. But in one example, a mini-room is made up of a small group of writers who have been hired by studios before a show has been given an official greenlight. But because it isn’t a formal writers’ room, the studios use that as a justification to pay writers less.
Writers in mini-rooms will sometimes work for as little as 10 weeks, and then have to scramble to find another job.
What do the studios say?
The studios argue this is not the best time for a major change in how writers are paid.
The advertising market is grim, and cable and broadcast networks, which had been highly profitable for decades, are hemorrhaging viewers. Wall Street has soured on media companies after Netflix lost subscribers for the first time in a decade last year. That has forced studio executives to quickly find a way to turn their money-losing streaming services into profitable entities.
The fallout has been significant. Disney is in the midst of laying off 7,000 workers. Warner Bros. Discovery cut thousands of jobs and shelved titles last year as they confronted a huge debt load. Many other studios are adopting similar cost-saving measures.
What about collateral damage?
A prolonged production shutdown could hurt the workers that help support productions, such as drivers, dry cleaners, caterers, carpenters and lumber yard workers. In the 2007 strike, which lasted 100 days, the Los Angeles economy took an estimated $2.1 billion hit.