Game of Thrones is safe. Netflix might even benefit. And Saturday Night Live well, they’ll be screwed.
If you’re a TV fan, you’ve probably heard rumblings about a looming writers’ strike, which if it goes ahead (and that’s not a done deal yet) could cause significant disruption to some of your favorite shows.
Movies, on the other hand, are a little better off; writers might be barred from doing polishes on scripts during a strike, but a finished feature is still likely to get to the screen on time.
On Monday, members of the Writers Guild of America (WGA) which represents television and film scribes voted to authorize a strike if the guild is unable to reach a new agreement with the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers (AMPTP), the organization that represents the TV networks and movie studios that produce all that sweet, sweet TV and movie content.
The current contracts between the WGA and AMPTP expire on May 1, which means a strike could begin as early as May 2. Negotiations between the two organizations resumed on Tuesday, but the signs are not great.
What do the writers want?
There are many issues up for negotiation in the contract talks with the AMPTP including boosting employer contributions to the guild’s health plan but the main source of contention is how much writers are earning.
Since many writers are paid per episode, the guild is pushing to get scribes on cable and streaming shows closer to the compensation that writers on broadcast shows receive, as well as increasing income for writers on short-order or limited series.
As The Hollywood Reporter notes, there are more scripted TV shows than ever before production has skyrocketed thanks to the increased popularity of cable and digital networks like Netflix and Amazon but those newer platforms often order fewer episodes per season, anywhere from six to 13, compared to the traditional 22 episode season favored by broadcasters (although they, too, have been experimenting with limited series in recent years).
This means writers have fewer episodes on which to earn money, and the breaks between seasons are longer, making it harder for low- and mid-level writers stay afloat. Compounding matters, Newsweek says, is the fact that “most AMPTP agreements prohibit writers from working on other shows for the duration of their contract, so even if a series is on hiatus theyre unable to work anywhere else during the downtime, which they also are disputing.”
The WGA has laid out many of the guild’s concerns here, if you want to dig deeper.
What does it mean for our favorite shows?
The last writers’ strike, which began on Nov. 5, 2007 and lasted until Feb. 12, 2008, had a massive effect on the TV industry, as production on all scripted shows immediately stopped. This resulted in the layoffs of thousands of crew members, assistants and support staff, while several shows that were forced to stop production mid-season were outright cancelled, including ABC’s Men in Trees, Fox’s K-Ville andNBC’s Bionic Woman remake.
More than 50 broadcast shows had shortened or delayed seasons since production could not be completed on the full run of episodes ordered by the networks, while many late night shows entered reruns immediately. According to a report from the Milken Institute, the 2007 work stoppage cost California 37,700 jobs and $2.1 billion in lost output from the fourth quarter of 2007 through the end of 2008.
Another strike would undoubtedly have similar effects but don’t panic yet: the WGA and AMPTP are still in talks, and everyone is well aware of the consequences of a major work halt, so it’s not a decision either side would take lightly.
The first series to go dark, if the writers put down their pens on May 2, would be late-night talk shows whose writers churn out daily or weekly commentary on current events, like Saturday Night Live, Jimmy Kimmel Live, The Late Show with Stephen Colbert, The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon, Last Week Tonight with John Oliver, Full Frontal with Samantha Bee and The Daily Show with Trevor Noah.
Given our political climate and the fact that Saturday Night Live is currently airing live across the country for the first time in its history we’d certainly miss out on some searing satire, with Chris Pine scheduled to host SNL on May 6, Melissa McCarthy (no doubt bringing her Sean Spicer A-game) on May 13, and Dwayne Johnson on May 20.
Also in the danger zone: Scripted series that are just about to begin filming or are still early in their production schedules including The Walking Dead Season 8, American Horror Story Season 7, Jessica Jones Season 2 and the first seasons of ABC’s Inhumans and CBS All Access’ Star Trek: Discovery.
The second and third seasons of Ryan Murphy’s American Crime Story are also in the process of being written, along with the Prince Charles and Princess Diana-themed second season of Feud. Likewise, the final season of The Mindy Project is expected to begin production in May, unless a strike delays it.
While a number of scripts on these shows have likely been completed ahead of shooting, a strike could certainly derail the back half of their seasons, and prevent any of the standard rewrites that occur as an episode moves through the production pipeline.
Safe for now:
The one benefit if one can call it that of a strike taking place in May, is that the majority of broadcast shows will have completed production on their seasons and closed their writers’ rooms, with writing on a new season or freshman series usually beginning in June.
That means fans of most broadcast shows which traditionally air from September through May will be able to see the conclusion of current seasons of favorites like The Flash, Empire, The Big Bang Theory, Grey’s Anatomy and Law and Order: SVU with no interruption.
If a potential strike were to drag on for several months, as it did a decade ago, it would likely delay the premiere dates for the 2017-18 season (new shows generally debut in September or October), or result in more reruns during the summer months, if networks decided to hold some of their planned summer premieres for fall to make up for any holes in next season’s schedules.
Either way, Game of Thrones fans can rest easy; the Season 7 premiere date may have been delayed until July, but the the show has completed filming on its penultimate season and is now in post-production winter is coming on July 16, no matter what.
Although a lengthier strike could slow down the writing of Season 8, the show isn’t expected to begin filming its final season until September, giving showrunners David Benioff and Dan Weiss a little breathing room. The duo revealed at SXSW back in March that they already had an outline for the last six episodes and have begun dividing up the installments, so work might currently be underway on Season 8 to give them a head start.
Shows that will have completed their scripts or finished filming by May 2, and therefore be unaffected by the strike, include Showtime’s Twin Peaks revival; Netflix’s Orange Is the New Black and The Defenders; Starz’s American Gods and Outlander; BBC America’s final season of Orphan Black; and, according to EW, Season 2 of Netflix’s Stranger Things.
Any other exceptions?
The shows that would profit most from a strike are unscripted series: reality competitions like The Voice, The Bachelor and Big Brother; docuseries that are the bread and butter of networks like Discovery and HGTV; sporting events; and shows with non-union writers, like series produced and written in Canada, World Wrestling Entertainment’s events (which have in-house, non-unionized writers) and some animated series like South Park, since creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone are reportedly not members of the WGA and kept writing the show during the last strike.
And even though Netflix boss Ted Sarandos insisted that the streaming giant “will be impacted” in the event of a strike, with some of its series currently being written and filmed, streaming services will definitely get a boost if traditional networks go into reruns.
With a deep bench of original and acquired programming ready to watch, more viewers could be tempted to cut the cord and throw their dollars towards Netflix, Hulu, Amazon and the backlog of classic shows offered by HBO Go and CBS All Access.
In fact, one of the only benefits of a strike, at least for viewers, would be the breathing room to finally start making your way through everything in your Netflix queue.
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