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How Hollywood Writers’ Strike Will Affect What You Watch on TV

‘Saturday Night Live’ cancels this week’s show; late night goes to reruns

spinner image People picket outside of Paramount Pictures in Los Angeles during the first day of the Writers Guild of America strike on May 2, 2023.
People picket outside of Paramount Pictures in Los Angeles during the first day of the Writers Guild of America strike on May 2, 2023.
Hans Gutknecht/MediaNews Group/Los Angeles Daily News via Getty Images

The Writers Guild of America (WGA) went on strike May 1. This will change what you see on-screen, starting right now. Here’s what has happened so far and what could lie head.

Why the people who write the shows you watch have gone on strike

A WGA member survey found that writers’ pay has plunged 14 percent in five years, and writer-producers earn 23 percent less than 10 years ago. Some say their earnings have been cut in half. Their income will likely plummet more soon, thanks to technology and a grim economy. Bill Lawrence, cocreator of the terrific show Shrinking, which stars Jason Segel and Harrison Ford, told the Los Angeles Times, “This will become a business that you can only do if your parents are well-off enough to help pay your rent.” Some writers have already moved back in with their parents.

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The first casualty of the strike: Late night just went dark

Without his writers, Stephen Colbert joked on May 1, “this show would be called The Late Show With a Guy Rambling About the ‘Lord of the Rings’ and Boats for an Hour.” On May 2, Colbert, Jimmy Fallon, Jimmy Kimmel and Seth Meyers shut down their shows’ production. It’s likely no accident that James Corden ended his show last week. Saturday Night Live canceled this week’s show, which was to be hosted by Pete Davidson, and will air reruns “until further notice.”

Next to go: daytime soap operas — and maybe prime-time hits

Soaps are likely to start running out of scripts by June. And don’t bet the ranch on your favorite prime-time shows’ new seasons. May is when writers usually start creating the fall TV season, and for now, they won’t be doing so. Maybe we’ll see a winter TV season instead. Movies take longer to make, but the strike could delay them, too, if it lasts long enough.

How long will the strike last?

The last writers’ strike, in 2007–8, lasted 100 days. The 1998 strike lasted 153 days.

What the writers want

The strikers are asking for $429 million a year in raises. “That’s less than The Super Mario Bros. Movie grossed in the US in a month,” showbiz pundit Mark Harris posted on Twitter. It’s an average raise of $37,304 for the 11,500 writers. “When [Netflix CEO] Ted Sarandos is making $50 million, the optics are so bad,” says Chapman Film School Dean Stephen Galloway. “It’s also about respect. A lot of writers really believe that the companies that make the shows really want to shut down the Guild.”

Except for execs, Hollywood studios aren’t doing great, either

As streaming replaces more lucrative pay TV, competition is brutal and revenues are elusive. Now that there are 500 to 600 shows a year — 10 times more than before streaming — there aren’t enough viewers to make them all profitable. Writers often used to get paid for 22-episode seasons, 40 weeks’ work, then get lucrative “residual” pay when shows sold for syndicated reruns and foreign markets. Now that many seasons have eight episodes, residuals are shrinking faster than glaciers, and increasingly writers get hired to launch a show, then get the boot. Studios are laying off tens of thousands. Long-term job security for writers was always nil, but now it’s less than ever.

“It’s like you’re negotiating for a bit more beach when a tsunami is about to send your entire house collapsing,” says Galloway, “and you say, ‘No, no, no, we want a little more sand!’ ”


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Expect more global shows

As the flow of new American shows slows, TV is likely to feature more foreign shows without pesky Guild writers. Squid Game already proved they can be hits. Since Netflix has a global audience, many shows from other nations and a need to compete with rivals who have bigger libraries of U.S. shows, it may feature foreign fare more prominently. And HBO will rebrand itself as Max on May 28, releasing lots of new shows it’s been saving up to capitalize on the strike, intensifying the competition for eyeballs.

TV will get real

Reality shows don’t require writers, so expect more of them the longer the strike endures. In 2007, The Apprentice was becoming a ratings dud, but when the writers’ strike prevented new episodes of The Office and Scrubs, NBC replaced them with The Celebrity Apprentice, which helped propel Donald Trump to the presidency. Who knows what pop culture phenomenon the 2023 strike will launch?

If you think streaming is scary for writers, try AI

The 2007–8 strike was much driven by the rise of streaming. Today the WGA wants to prevent studios from using artificial intelligence to create scripts, or to make human writers serve their masters by rewriting scripts created by AI.

The last strike did not stop the rise of streaming, nor make life a paradise for Hollywood writers.

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