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Hollywood Strike Expands: How Will It Affect What You Watch?

In the most important strike in showbiz history, 160,000 actors join writers striking against studios, shutting down TV and movie productions — you’ll likely have fewer hits to watch, and pay more for streaming

spinner image actor jason sudeikis pickets with members of the writers guild of america and screen actors guild outside nbc universal in new york city
"Ted Lasso" star Jason Sudeikis (left) joins members of the Writers Guild of America and the Screen Actors Guild as they walk a picket line outside NBC Universal in New York City on July 14, 2023.
TIMOTHY A. CLARY/AFP via Getty Images

The Hollywood actors union SAG-AFTRA voted July 13 to join the strike that the 11,500 members of the writers union WGA launched in May. For the first time since Ronald Reagan headed the striking actors union 63 years ago, two Hollywood unions have gone on strike together.

Here’s what’s happened, and what it means for you, the viewer:

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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. Some writers have already moved back in with their parents.

“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.”

Why the movie and TV actors are joining them

They want better pay, compensation when their hits are profitable and protection against the menace of AI, which could replace actors.

“I cannot believe it, quite frankly, how far apart we are on so many things,” said SAG-AFTRA president and The Nanny star Fran Drescher in a fiery speech, “How they plead poverty, that they’re losing money left and right when giving hundreds of millions of dollars to their CEOs. It is disgusting. Shame on them. They stand on the wrong side of history.”

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 are 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 and actors was always nil, but now it’s less than ever.

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“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!’ ”

“This is the most important strike in Hollywood history because it’s over existential issues,” UCLA film historian Jonathan Kuntz told The Hollywood Reporter. “We’re entering an era of scarcity. This is about a shrinking pie that’s now being divvied up.”

What the studios are offering

The studio group AMPTP says it has offered “historic pay and residual increases, substantially higher caps on pension and health contributions, audition protections, shortened series option periods, and a groundbreaking AI proposal that protects actors’ digital likenesses for SAG-AFTRA members.”

AI is a sticking point in the negotiations

“They proposed that our background performers should be able to be scanned, get paid for one day’s pay and their company should own that scan, their image, their likeness and to be able to use it for the rest of eternity in any project they want, with no consent and no compensation,” said SAG negotiator Duncan Crabtree-Ireland. “If we don’t stand tall right now, we are all going to be in trouble, we are all going to be in jeopardy of being replaced by machines,” said Drescher.

Actor John Cusack called AI “a giant copyright identity theft.”

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When will the strike end?

“The 1988 strike, the first I was a part of, lasted 22 weeks, the longest in Hollywood history,” tweeted Game of Thrones author George R. R. Martin, whose show A Knight of the Seven Kingdoms is now on hold. “The 2007-2008 strike, the most recent, went for 100 days. This one may go longer.”

Studio sources told Deadline the hope is to protract writers’ and actors’ suffering to break their will to resist. “Not [until] Halloween precisely, but late October, for sure, is the intention,” said one producer. “The endgame is to allow things to drag on until union members start losing their apartments and losing their houses,” a studio executive said.

AMPTP said the anonymous sources did not reflect its actual intentions.

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What’s the impact on the shows and movies we want to see?

SNL and late-night talk shows aren’t shooting new shows. The fall TV season will feature more reality shows like The Masked Singer, The Amazing Race and Survivor, and reruns instead of new seasons and new shows. The September Emmy Awards might be delayed as long as January. Actors cannot campaign for Emmys, fall film festivals won’t have starry red carpets to launch Oscar campaigns and you won’t see stars on TV shows promoting their hits, including summer blockbusters like Barbie and Oppenheimer. Upcoming shows and movies will be delayed, including Ghostbusters 4, Mufasa: The Lion King, Avatar 3 and 4, Deadpool 3, the Gladiator sequel, Hacks, The Old Man and 1923. Basically, the industry is holding its breath until the High Noon-like showdown ends.

How about those $7.99 a month streaming services we love?

Expect to pay more for streaming services in the future. Ad revenues are down, the strike will be costly, the writers and actors will likely get some sort of increase in pay and studios are less likely to cut CEO pay than they are to ask consumers to help bail them out of a frightening financial future.

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