On August 13 2023, a popular post to Reddit’s r/WorkReform featured a claim about writers for the popular show Suits only earning $3,000 “collectively” for their work on the series:
The post was titled “Here’s Why They’re Striking,” and it showed a screengrab of an August 12 2023 tweet by politician Nina Turner. Turner simply wrote “WHAT!?!” above a screenshot reading:
‘Suits’ Was Streamed For 3 Billion Minutes on Netflix and the Writers Were Collectively Paid $3,000
The sorry state of streaming residuals shows why SAG and the WGA are striking.
Text on the screenshot matched the title of an August 11 2023 post to Reddit’s r/screenwriting:
Under the title, text reading “So this is pretty wild” linked to an August 11 2023 article on screenwriting site NoFilmSchool.com. It began by explaining that Suits proved to be a massive revenue source for Netflix in the summer of 2023:
It’s impossible to log into Netflix and not see Suits. The show was in the Top 10 for weeks and re-entered the cultural lexicon thanks to new viewers.
Netflix has been very good for TV shows that didn’t reach a wide audience the first go around. Suits, which ran from 2011 to 2019, is also streaming on Peacock, which holds all nine seasons of the 134 episode long series.
Its availability and newfound popularity allowed the show to be streamed over three billion minutes in one week, and many times more than that cumulatively since debuting on both platforms.
Later in the piece, NoFilmSchool.com mentioned the source of the claim — a paywalled August 9 2023 Los Angeles Times editorial, “Opinion: I helped write the surprise Netflix sensation ‘Suits.’ My reward? $259.71.” It opened with examples of how “unprecedented success begets unprecedented wealth,” continuing:
… In success, [people working on successful projects] get paid, too.
But not in Hollywood. Here, when you write for a show that becomes an unprecedented success, there is no such windfall. There is only a check for $259.71.
It doesn’t matter whether the show you helped build generates 3.1 billion viewing minutes in one week across Netflix and NBCUniversal’s Peacock, setting a Nielsen record. It doesn’t matter whether said show constitutes 40% of Netflix’s Top 10.
$259.71: That’s how much the “Suits” episode I wrote, “Identity Crisis,” earned last quarter in streaming residuals. All together, NBCUniversal paid the six original “Suits” writers less than $3,000 last quarter to stream our 11 Season 1 episodes on two platforms.
Because the editorial was behind a paywall, not everyone seeing the viral iterations could see the details of what Suits writer Ethan Drogin wrote — and the widely-seen headline stipulated that Suits had streamed for “3 billion minutes on Netflix.” Drogin said that NBCUniversal paid the six original Suits writers “less than $3,000 last quarter,” to stream the series on two platforms, including NBC’s Peacock streaming service.
In addition to the compensation described, Drogin added:
Being underpaid is only part of the problem. The other part? Not being paid at all.
“Suits” became so popular globally that it was licensed and remade in South Korea, Japan and Egypt. When that happens, studios are supposed to pay the writers for the source material.
But a couple of quarters after the Egyptian version of “Suits” began airing last year , I asked the Writers Guild of America to look into why I hadn’t been paid. So far, the guild’s small but intrepid enforcement team has been stonewalled.
This is far from the only story about shockingly underpaid writers (and others working in creative fields). A May 2023 story from The Guardian included multiple interviews with Hollywood writers about the reasons they had decided to strike; a month later, a Marketplace story referencing the Writer’s Guild of America’s stated reasons for striking noted that the situation for writers is actively getting worse:
Median weekly writer-producer pay has declined 23% over the past decade, after adjusting for inflation, according to the WGA. About a decade ago, one-third of all TV series writers were paid the minimum rate. Now, nearly half of TV writers are paid the minimum.
Despite declining pay for staffers, CEO compensation remains high. Variety crunched the numbers for their compensation in 2022, finding that Disney CEO Bob Iger received $15 million, Netflix co-CEOs Ted Sarandos and Reed Hastings received more than $50 million each and Warner Bros. Discovery CEO David Zaslav received $39 million
In August 2023, claims that Suits writers were “only paid $3,000 collectively” began circulating on Reddit and Twitter — often decoupled from the original source. On August 9 2023, one of Suits‘ writers published an editorial about the writers’ struggle to be compensated for their work. In that piece, the author clarified the $3,000 “in total” was among six writers, averaging $500 each per quarter. The editorial also included a detail about Suits writers “not getting paid at all” for licensed versions of the show in other global markets.