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    HomeEntertainmentHow would a writers strike affect TV shows? Here's what to know.

    How would a writers strike affect TV shows? Here’s what to know.

    For the past 15 years, Aaron Rahsaan Thomas has kept the shirt in pristine condition, on the top right-hand side of his drawer. It has moved with him twice, from the Los Angeles duplex he was living in as a junior writer on “Friday Night Lights,” to the two-story craftsman home where he now lives. It has remained in the same place through the birth of two daughters and through the development of the CBS action drama he created, “S.W.A.T.” — the red t-shirt he wore for nearly all of the 100-day Hollywood writers’ strike in 2007.

    The shirt serves as both a testament to the career he’s built and a pledge to preserve it, Thomas said: “It’s a marker that you stood the test of time and you’re ready to go again if necessary.”

    Thomas, who has spoken about the impact the strike had on his work, may be donning that shirt as soon as next month.

    How a Hollywood writers’ strike can derail a great TV show

    Hollywood is standing on the precipice of a strike that could shut down the industry after members of the film and television writers’ guild overwhelmingly approved a walkout earlier this week.

    The Writers Guild of America announced Monday that nearly 98 percent of voting WGA members, more than 9,000 writers, authorized the potential walkout — which would be the first strike in 15 years — if the union can’t negotiate a deal with the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers, which represents Hollywood production companies.

    The last time the guild authorized a strike was in 2017, but the WGA and the studios were able to hammer out a deal at the 11th hour. The most recent agreement was settled in 2019. This year’s strike authorization vote had the highest approval rate and turnout of any in the WGA’s history.

    The studios and networks have less than two weeks to reach an agreement and avert a work stoppage.

    Hollywood writers say the issue at the core of their demands is an existential one: In an era of peak television, is it still possible for writers to make a living?

    Companies have used the transition to streaming as an excuse to undervalue writers, the WGA said, “worsening working conditions for series writers at all levels” while streaming services such as Netflix profit. The guild’s goals for the new contract include raising writers’ minimum wages and ensuring the compensation and residuals for writers whose projects appear only on streaming services are paid in line with those whose work is in theaters.

    Other union requests include regulating the use of artificial intelligence to write scripts and addressing pay issues for mini-rooms, where writers are asked to work on a show in its preproduction stage or before the series has been picked up.

    “Our membership has spoken,” the WGA said in an announcement. “Writers have expressed our collective strength, solidarity, and the demand for meaningful change in overwhelming numbers.”

    The AMPTP expressed its commitment to reaching a “fair and reasonable agreement” in a statement: “An agreement is only possible if the Guild is committed to turning its focus to serious bargaining by engaging in full discussions of the issues with the Companies and searching for reasonable compromises.”

    David Slack, a writer and consulting producer for drama series “Magnum P.I.” and a former WGA West board member, said the vote was a necessary measure, pushing production companies to be more amenable in the negotiations process.

    “The power to withhold our labor is the only tool we have to get the studios to pay us what’s fair,” he said. “Our products are the foundation for all the billions of dollars of revenue that these entertainment companies generate, and we need to be compensated for that.”

    Slack was a writer for “Law & Order” when he joined his fellow union members on strike in 2007. At the time, he almost went bankrupt, but Slack said he’d do it again to secure fair compensation.

    “I’m still hoping that we won’t have to go on strike,” Slack said. “But writing should be a viable career … that lets you raise a family, buy a house, build money for retirement. And that’s something worth fighting for.”

    The kind of progression writers such as Thomas and Slack have experienced in their careers — working up from writers to producers and showrunners — is much harder to achieve now than it was a decade ago. Even though there are more writing jobs, they’ve diminished dramatically in quality, Thomas said.

    Brittani Nichols knew she was signing up for hard, unglamorous work when she moved to Los Angeles at 22. Nichols, who is now a writer-producer on the hit ABC show “Abbott Elementary,” shared her first apartment with four other people: a family of three who slept on an air mattress in the living room and another roommate.

    In those early days, her commute to work took two hours because she had no car and had to rely on Los Angeles’ public transit system. She worked different side jobs to make enough money just to take the bus — working as an extra, doing marketing consulting research. All of the money she could scrape together went back into reinvesting in her writing career, she said: “Because I knew that was the only way to get that job that was going to put me on stable ground.”

    And like many other young writers, Nichols accepted it as growing pains.

    “I was just like, this is just part of it. This is what being a broke artist is,” said Nichols. “If you stick it out and are good at your job, a middle-class life is on the other side.”

    “But increasingly, because of how studios are grinding down pay and making it impossible to build a career, there’s nothing on the other side for writers anymore,” she said. “It’s just that eternal struggle.” The career paths available to her back then have increasingly disappeared.

    It used to be that writing on a hit show could sustain you for that year, until the next season rolled around, Nichols said. Before streaming exploded in popularity, TV seasons were longer — around 22 episodes — and there were fewer limited series options than there are now. Not only are today’s shows shorter, they also take more time to produce, increasing the length of time a writer must live on last season’s paycheck — and that’s if their show is even renewed.

    Because so many writing opportunities have essentially become gig jobs, writers have also struggled to pick up the kind of skills and experience that prime them to take on more lucrative roles as producers and showrunners. According to the WGA’s most recent data, only half of their members are making more than the contracted minimum salary for their job — in 2013, two-thirds of writers did.

    “This is not an industry built for people without money,” said Nichols.

    How much a 2023 writer’s strike will impact this year’s crop of TV and film depends largely on how long a strike last.

    Viewers are unlikely to notice any impact on broadcast shows, many of which have already written and filmed their final episodes. The same goes for streaming shows, which have longer lead times than broadcast series. But an extended strike could push back when these shows return to air. The same holds true for films, particularly those set for release in the next two years. It’s also unclear whether unionized actors would be willing to cross the picket line to shoot these projects.

    The impact of the 2007 writers’ strike was widely felt. Popular TV shows such as “30 Rock,” “Friday Night Lights,” “Big Bang Theory,” “Grey’s Anatomy” and “Heroes” cut their seasons short. Daytime soaps hired nonunion writers. Late-night hosts improvised without their regular writing staff and grew beards in solidarity as the strike went on. Other shows, such as “24” and “Entourage,” halted production completely, postponing their seasons. The impact of the strike also rippled out onto the big screen, affecting “Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen,” “X-Men Origins: Wolverine” and “Terminator Salvation,” among others. The 100-day work stoppage is estimated to have cost the city of Los Angeles $4.5 billion in today’s dollars.

    But unlike the 2007 strike, when there were debates among writers about how streaming could impact their livelihoods, there’s greater unity and less infighting among writers this time around, industry veterans say.

    “I’ve never seen so much clarity in the issues that have to be addressed, and so much agreement on the fact that they need to be addressed now,” said Thomas.

    As the contract deadline approaches, people across the industry are scrambling to complete projects, secure deals and wrap production.

    “We’re all planning as if the strike is going to occur,” Elsa Ramo, a managing partner of a Hollywood law firm, told Vanity Fair earlier this month. “Our perspective is, how do we continue to get things made if and when the strike happens?”

    Nichols, however, isn’t changing any of her plans. The season finale of “Abbott Elementary” will air tonight — one that she wrote. She knows the cost of a work stoppage: the loss of income and job security, potentially losing momentum in your career, projects being delayed or canceled. “Abbott Elementary” writers are expected to start working on season three on May 1 — the same day the contract expires. The risk of losing work during a strike will be worth it, for her and others, she said.

    “At some point, I’ll either leave the job to try to pursue something else or the show will end or get canceled,” she said. “Then here’s another job that I’ll have to go do. And right now, the chances of that job being good are incredibly low.”



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