On May 2, 2023, the Writers Guild of America began a strike against the big Hollywood studios. The strike essentially meant that most productions were shut down because, without writers, not much could be done. Some productions already had scripts written, which meant filming could continue until SAG-AFTRA also went on strike. This week, the WGA Strike came to an end, meaning that writers can get back to work. But, with the actors still on strike, does it matter at all?
What is the Writers Guild of America?
The Writers Guild of America (WGA) is a labor union that represents the interests of writers in film, television, radio, and online media. It is the joint effort of two different American labor unions: The Writers Guild of America, East (WGAE), headquartered in New York City and affiliated with the AFL-CIO, and The Writers Guild of America West (WGAW), headquartered in Los Angeles. Although each organization operates independently, they perform some common activities, including negotiating contracts and launching strike actions in unison.
The WGA was established in 1954 after the merging of groups from other writers' labor unions. It represents thousands of members who write content for television shows, movies, news programs, documentaries, animation, and digital media. As a member of the WGA, writers get access to lots of great benefits and resources, including health insurance, retirement plans, legal assistance, and professional connections.
About the WGA strike 2023
The most recent WGA Strike was driven by a number of key demands. The 11,500 members of the WGA went on strike after negotiations with Hollywood studios that began in March failed to result in an agreement. The guild was seeking higher compensation for writers across the board. Despite the proliferation of streaming services leading to more jobs for WGA members, pay for most writers had decreased. According to the WGA, writer pay had declined 14% in the last five years when accounting for inflation. The guild was also seeking increases for their pension plan and health fund.
In addition to increased pay and benefits, the WGA was seeking better residuals. Residuals have been a foundational way for writers to make money, but streaming has disrupted those payouts. To replace backend residuals, the WGA was seeking more upfront fees. The union also wanted TV shows to staff a certain number of writers for a period of time. This was in response to the rising practice of "mini rooms" where only a handful of writers are working on a series. The use of mini rooms had circumvented some of the protections WGA members have from being overworked and understaffed.
The biggest point of contention, however, was around the use of AI in the writing process. Studios want to use AI as part of the writing process, while the WGA obviously wants to protect its members from the threat.
What comes following the end of the strike?
The big question comes in the form of what comes next. Writers being able to do their jobs again is a good start, but with the SAG-AFTRA strike still in full swing, filming for scripted content is still not going to be possible. So, big TV shows, streaming series, and movies are still in hibernation until everything is resolved between the actors.
However, some programming will return. For example, the late night "comedy" shows are all set to return this cycle. Stephen Colbert, Jimmy Kimmel, Jimmy Fallon, and Seth Meyers will return on Monday night October 2, while John Oliver is returning tonight October 1. The Daily Show will return October 16 with guest hosts since Trevor Noah left the show.
These shows are going to have an uphill battle to regain viewership, though. Many TV viewers didn't notice that they went to reruns 5 months ago, as the quality of the category has gone downhill in recent years. And without new episodes, many people have found other entertainment in the evening, including streaming series.
So, when will regular entertainment return? There's no telling, but we do know that it won't be this week.