TV writers inching closer to work stoppage

TV writers inching closer to work stoppage
Posted at 5:53 PM, Apr 24, 2017

The Writers Guild of America's membership has overwhelmingly authorized a strike against the Hollywood studios if they can't win sought-after concessions, inching closer to a work stoppage that could have serious economic effects on the entertainment industry.

The WGA and the major studios will return to the bargaining table Tuesday, with less than a week remaining before their existing contract expires on May 1.

The strike-authorization vote, conducted last week and announced Monday, is basically a formality, seeking to give guild negotiators the leverage they need to push for a better deal. As writers have noted, walking out remains the biggest threat they can muster.

The two sides have agreed to a media blackout, but writers have taken to Twitter, social media and op-ed pages urging peers to authorize a strike for that reason. Mike Royce, an executive producer on Netflix's revival "One Day at a Time," said he voted "yes" to provide the leadership "leverage to make best deal and avoid a strike."

"I voted to authorize the leaders of my union to call a strike that I desperately don't want," "The Blacklist" producer John Eisendrath wrote in the Los Angeles Times, citing scars that "remain fresh" from 2007.

Both sides remember the ill effects of the guild's last strike that began a decade ago, which lasted more than three months and exacted a heavy financial toll thanks to the slowdown in scripted production.

Still, the writers insist the studios are making vast profits and that they should be fairly compensated. Their aims call for addressing changes in the industry, like the shift toward short-order TV shows that generate fewer episodes and thus reduce writers' earnings.

"We deserve our share of the pie," tweeted former "Lost" producer Javi Grillo-Marxuach.

Studios, for their part, contend that they face uncertainty in a shifting climate that is rapidly altering their business model and producing new competitors.

The Alliance for Motion Picture and Television Producers issued a statement saying that the studios are "committed to reaching a deal," adding that the writers "lost more than $287 million in compensation that was never recovered" in the last strike.

In a podcast earlier this month, Writers Guild negotiating committee members laid out key provisions of the talks, which include increasing studio contributions to their healthcare plan, higher minimums for lower-level writers and more flexibility in securing other work while short-order series are out of production.

"We need to be prepared to strike if necessary," WGA West President and negotiating committee co-chair Christopher Keyser said during that conversation. He also suggested that any anger toward writers for potentially halting production -- with its ripple effect throughout Hollywood -- should be directed at the studios, which "certainly have the means to meet our demands. ... They understand how much writers are worth. They just don't want to pay how much writers are worth."

The studios' argument that they can't pony up more for a new contract hasn't been helped by reports of how well their CEOs are doing -- compensation that's tethered to their companies' results. That includes filings showing CBS' Leslie Moonves and Disney's Bob Iger earned $69.6 million and $43.9 million last year, respectively.

The May deadline means that many popular TV shows have finished production, so the effects of the strike wouldn't be as visible right away. The immediate impact would be on late night talk shows, such as those hosted by Jimmy Fallon and Stephen Colbert, and daytime soap operas.

The timing also means that the networks could face the uncertainty of a work stoppage when they present their primetime lineups to advertisers next month, kicking off the upfront market, with billions of dollars in ad sales at stake.