Professors consider effects Hollywood writers’ strike would have caused
(Juliette Le Saint)
May 2, 2017 4:53 p.m.
Hollywood writers were poised to go on strike Tuesday, but they narrowly managed to make a deal just moments after their prior contract expired.
The Writers Guild of America voted 96.3 percent in favor of a strike authorization April 24. The strike would have begun Tuesday, and would have been the first major WGA strike since the 2007-2008 strike which lasted 100 days.
In a statement made early Tuesday morning, the WGA said it made great strides in the areas of improving health benefits and minimum pay among other developments. In the end, the deal will manage to net the guild members $130 million more than they had been expecting.
Professors from the UCLA School of Theater, Film and Television and the UCLA School of Law weighed in on how the narrowly avoided strike could have differed from the last one and what the strike would have meant for some popular TV series.
“(In) the days leading up to it, there’s a ton of confusion,” said screenwriting lecturer Tim Albaugh. “I think the concern, as always, is will you ever get hired again, (and) will there be some sort of backlash against you for striking?”
The WGA is a union that renegotiates its collective bargaining agreements, which employers and unions make to regulate working conditions, benefits and salaries every three or four years, said Brian Walton, lecturer in law at UCLA who also served as the WGA’s executive director from 1985 to 1998.
The WGA’s prior contract with the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers expired Tuesday at midnight; however, in order to avoid a strike in the morning, negotiators kept talks going into the next hour until they could reach an agreement, according to Deadline.
Albaugh, who had been writing professionally as a member of the WGA for about nine years when the previous strike began, said the entertainment industry has changed vastly since then, especially with the advent of streaming services like Netflix and Hulu.
Because consumers have access to such a vast amount of shows on the services, Albaugh said viewers would have likely shifted to streaming television in the event of a strike that lasted through the summer, since nonstreaming networks would not have been able to produce any new, scripted content for the fall.
Streaming services would also have been unable to produce new content, but consumers could have more control over what they could watch on streaming services, as opposed to nonstreaming networks. During the 2007-2008 strike, networks resorted to airing reruns and producing more unscripted content – for example, CBS aired two seasons of “Big Brother” in 2008, as opposed to the planned one season.
If the strike had affected the production of some of his favorite shows to stream, such as a new season of “13 Reasons Why,” Ian Smith, a first-year pre-business economics student, said he would resort to watching mostly sports on television.
The WGA had several grievances, but Albaugh said he believes the three biggest issues were with the WGA’s health and welfare funds, pension contributions and the compensation of writer teams, which are often paid the same amount as single writers, in violation of the WGA’s contract, according to Deadline.
The average number of episodes per season has recently gone down from 22 to between 10 and 15 and this fact – combined with exclusivity agreements that bind writers to certain projects – has led to writers making less money than they would have working on longer seasons, said Erin Hill, a UCLA lecturer on television history.
In the event of a strike, it would have taken a while for consumers to notice major changes in the networks’ programming. Shows like “The Tonight Show” and “Saturday Night Live” would have been hit particularly hard early on in the strike because they are scripted so close to production. But it would have taken months for other shows that are scripted further ahead of time to be majorly influenced, Hill said.
“If you’re going to shoot a movie tomorrow and the actors just walk off, you can’t shoot the movie,” Walton said. “When the writers go on strike, the power is mitigated somewhat because they work in advance of production, so the companies have scripts that have been written before the strike deadline.”
Though an agreement was eventually reached, not all members of the parties seemed to be satisfied by the result.
“Did we get everything we wanted? No. Everything we deserve? Certainly not,” the WGA negotiating committee wrote in its statement to the guild members.