On early May 2 2023, members of the Writer’s Guild of America union went on strike:
As of 12:01 a.m. on May 2, members of the creative community on both coasts (and production hubs in between) have traded the finery of that event for fire and brimstone on picket lines. The breakdown of the Writers Guild of America’s contract negotiations with the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers has unleashed a torrent of emotion not seen among Hollywood union members since the last time the WGA went on strike, in 2007. The strike promises to bring even more upheaval to a marketplace that is already grappling with the fallout from technological disruption and still rebuilding from the pandemic. Six weeks of tense negotiations made it clear that the industry faces a reckoning after a decade of the Peak TV content boom that has strained Hollywood’s creative infrastructure to its breaking point.
Not long after that, a Reddit account shared a post about actor Rob Lowe’s appearance on a picket line in support of the writer’s strike to the subreddit r/PandR (for discussion about the show Parks and Recreation):
Social media posts about striking writers or the Writer’s Guild tended to focus on a specific detail or individual. In the post above, the strike was in the context of Rob Lowe and Parks and Recreation.
Other popular Reddit posts about the strike referenced the advent of ChatGPT, a technology that could theoretically “replace” writers. Individual posts appeared on r/technology and r/ChatGPT, discussing the strike in the context of artificial intelligence:
On r/television, one poster expressed concern about the strike against the backdrop of “disappearing” content and streaming services:
Elements of the strike were addressed in bits and pieces on social media and in the news. Here’s what we know about the 2023 writers strike so far.
What is the 2023 Writers Strike? Who Are the Parties Involved?
The strike is an ongoing labor dispute between the Writer’s Guild of America (WGA) labor union and the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers (AMPTP), the union’s largest labor stoppage since the WGA strike in 2007-2008. They released a list of concerns and demands:
For streaming projects, the WGA asked for viewership-based residuals, in addition to its existing fixed residuals, “to reward programs with greater viewership,” according to the document. This would require viewership transparency, something that streamers have proved to be unwilling to provide, even to the stars of shows and movies. The WGA said the AMPTP rejected the proposal and refused to make a counter.
Concerns about AI taking over writing also are alleged to have been glossed over by the studios. The WGA wanted to regulate the use of AI and wanted assurance that it could not be used to write or rewrite literary material, nor could it be used as source material. The AMPTP rejected the guild’s proposals, countering by offering annual meetings to discuss advancements in technology, the WGA said.
As mentioned, the strike officially began just after midnight on May 2 2023.
The 2007-2008 Writers’ Strike
Several news articles retrospectively examined the long-term effects of the previous writers’ strike, which began in 2007, ended in 2008, and lasted for 100 days.
In May 2018, the Hollywood Reporter published a story on that historic strike, “100 Days That Changed Hollywood: The Writers Strike, 10 Years Later.” It began:
It was early 2006 when Damon Lindelof headed down to the Third Street Promenade in Santa Monica to see advertisements for his television series Lost, then in its second season on ABC, blanketing the Apple Store. In that moment, he was tickled by the cachet of having his sci-fi creation be among the first series to roll out on Apple products. A few hours later, however, he got what his 11-year-old refers to as the “uh-oh” feeling. “It’s when your body is telling you that something is wrong,” he explains. “People were downloading Lost and paying $1.99 an episode. … I didn’t quite make the leap to, ‘I don’t get compensated for this at all.’”
A year and a half later, he would. As would 12,000 other screenwriters who joined Lindelof on picket lines in Los Angeles and New York, as the Writers Guild of America waged war on the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers largely over pay for work that’s distributed via the internet, iPods, cellphones and other new media. The work stoppage — the industry’s first in nearly two decades — ultimately lasted 100 days and, according to the Milken Institute, took a $2.1 billion toll on the L.A. economy.
In February 2023, pop culture website The AV Club recounted the effects of that strike on specific projects in anticipation of a potential strike in 2023. As a result of the last stoppage, seasons were shortened and shows canceled:
The last writers’ strike occurred over 100 days in 2007-08, running from November 5 to February 12. The strike saw the complete shutdown of shows such as Saturday Night Live … As the strike went on, Jay Leno, Conan O’Brien, and David Letterman all paid their non-striking staff out of their own pockets in the face of layoffs.
Several scripted shows, such as Bryan Fuller’s Pushing Daisies, were taken out at the knees by the strike … When the spring ushered an end to the strike, the show had not been able to return with the same momentum and was subsequently canceled by ABC. We of course understand and support the writers’ strike, but knowing that we missed out on (at least) 13 episodes of Pushing Daisies still hurts.
Pushing Daisies was far from alone in airing a truncated season, with popular shows such as Lost, Friday Night Lights, Gossip Girl, Heroes, Breaking Bad, and 30 Rock also trudging on with shortened seasons, resulting in several incoherent storylines and rushed endings.
Why Are Writers on Strike in 2023?
There are a few concerns and demands. On February 15 2023, the Los Angeles Times reported the then-looming possibility of a writers’ strike, explaining:
The WGA’s current three-year contract expires May 1 . Many expect that negotiations will be tough and that a strike could be on the horizon because of a widening gap between what the union’s roughly 10,000 members want and what studios may be prepared to deliver amid a period of cost-cutting and layoffs.
The dispute was framed as primarily a battle over residuals, or royalties for existing works; inflation and industry-wide structural changes were also cited by the union. The story also covered the rise of streaming, and how it disrupted residuals and made it impossible for writers to ascertain whether they were properly compensated per contract terms:
In 1953, the WGA agreed a deal with studios for the re-airing of TV shows, based on the idea that if a program were being rerun, there was less demand to employ TV writers for new content.
Every time a show was rerun, the writers would receive a fee, commonly known today as a residual. These fees became vital to writers to help them make ends meet during leaner years as their work was sold overseas or was rerun on TV for years.
But the streaming revolution has upended the old system of compensation. The syndication market for TV shows has all but disappeared, and residuals from movies have also waned as theatrical attendance has sharply declined, eroding the residual income for writers … many writers believe the streaming residual payments are too low. What’s more, they said, the lack of viewership data means they don’t have insight into how many people have viewed their show or film and whether their residual payment is accurately reflecting its success.
When Will the 2023 Writers Guild of America Strike End?
On May 2 2023, the Los Angeles Times published “Hollywood writers are on strike. Now what?”
It primarily recapped the events leading up to the strike, and continued:
So why couldn’t the two sides come to a deal? And how long will it take before their differences are resolved?
WGA negotiating committee co-chairman David Goodman’s quote — indicating that the breakdown [in negotiations] had been [obvious] for days and that the studios “didn’t want to make a deal” — doesn’t offer much promise that this will end soon.
Anyway, how bad this gets for the industry depends on how long the work stoppage lasts. The late-night shows — every Stephen, Seth and Jimmy — are the first to get hit. If it goes on for months, as in the 2007-08 strike, you’ll start to see it disrupt the fall TV schedule … The 2007 strike resulted in $772 million in lost wages for writers and production workers, according to the L.A. County Economic Development Corp., and that didn’t include the impact on valets, caterers and other industry-dependent workers.
But for WGA members who want this ever-changing business to be economically sustainable for present and future writers, even non-famous ones? Without a satisfactory offer from the studios, they clearly have decided it’s worth it, or that they have no choice.
NBC News addressed some of the more immediate disruptions in a May 2 2023 article:
The strike brings production on broadcast programs, streaming shows and potentially some films to a virtual standstill, upending the entertainment industry … In some cases, the impact will be clear immediately. Late-night talk shows are going dark this week [ending May 6 2023], for example. In other cases, the producers of scripted drama and comedy series may be forced to cut their seasons short or delay filming altogether.
[A scheduled May 6 2023] episode of NBC’s “Saturday Night Live,” which Pete Davidson was to host with Lil Uzi Vert as the musical guest, was canceled because of the strike, according to a news release. “SNL” will air a repeat Saturday and until further notice, it said.
The work stoppage comes amid intense economic and technological upheaval in Hollywood, which is grappling with the increasing dominance of streaming services, the decline of traditional broadcast viewership and even the rise of artificial intelligence, which has stoked anxiety about the future of creative professions.
The end of the story referenced AI-produced material as part of the dispute:
The union is facing issues that might have been unfathomable during the last [2007-2008]strike, when Netflix was best known for shipping DVDs in red envelopes and traditional network television channels still generated mammoth ratings.
In one sign of the times, the WGA’s demands for this negotiation cycle include regulations for the “use of material produced using artificial intelligence or similar technologies.”
May 1 2023 Statement from the WGA
On May 1 2023, the Writer’s Guild of America issued a statement informing members its negotiations “with the studios and streamers has failed to reach an agreement.”
In full, it read:
We have not reached an agreement with the studios and streamers. We will be on strike after the contract expires at midnight.
Your WGA Negotiating Committee spent the last six weeks negotiating with Netflix, Amazon, Apple, Disney, Discovery-Warner, NBC Universal, Paramount and Sony under the umbrella of the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers (AMPTP).
Over the course of the negotiation, we explained how the companies’ business practices have slashed our compensation and residuals and undermined our working conditions. Our chief negotiator, as well as writers on the committee, made clear to the studios’ labor representatives that we are determined to achieve a new contract with fair pay that reflects the value of our contribution to company success and includes protections to ensure that writing survives as a sustainable profession. We advocated on behalf of members across all sectors: features, episodic television, and comedy-variety and other non-prime-time programs, by giving them facts, concrete examples, and reasonable solutions. Guild members demonstrated collective resolve and support of the agenda with a 97.85% strike authorization.
Though we negotiated intent on making a fair deal—and though your strike vote gave us the leverage to make some gains—the studios’ responses to our proposals have been wholly insufficient, given the existential crisis writers are facing. The companies’ behavior has created a gig economy inside a union workforce, and their immovable stance in this negotiation has betrayed a commitment to further devaluing the profession of writing. From their refusal to guarantee any level of weekly employment in episodic television, to the creation of a “day rate” in comedy variety, to their stonewalling on free work for screenwriters and on AI for all writers, they have closed the door on their labor force and opened the door to writing as an entirely freelance profession. No such deal could ever be contemplated by this membership.
Therefore, earlier today the Negotiating Committee unanimously rejected the AMPTP’s final offer before deadline and recommended to the WGAW Board and WGAE Council the issuance of a strike order. Based on that recommendation, the Board and Council unanimously voted to strike after the current MBA’s expiration at midnight tonight.
A strike by the WGAW and WGAE against all companies signatory to the 2020 MBA will begin on Tuesday, May 2, 2023 at 12:01 am PT/3:01 am ET.
We must now exert the maximum leverage possible to get a fair contract by withholding our labor. All WGA members are obligated to follow the strike rules. The FAQ about the strike rules includes forms to assist with notice requirements as well as contact information for Guild staff to provide additional guidance.
Members of the Negotiating Committee, Board and Council will be out with you on the picket lines. The initial picketing schedule can be found here and will be updated regularly.
Writers Guild members can hear a full report from the Negotiating Committee in Los Angeles at the Shrine Auditorium at 7:00 pm PT on Wednesday May 3 (RSVP here) and in New York at Cooper Union at 7:00 pm ET (RSVP here). Members outside of Los Angeles and New York or who are otherwise unable to attend a meeting will receive information in the coming days to hear from leadership and receive information about additional ways to support the strike.
Here is what all writers know: the companies have broken this business. They have taken so much from the very people, the writers, who have made them wealthy. But what they cannot take from us is each other, our solidarity, our mutual commitment to save ourselves and this profession that we love. We had hoped to do this through reasonable conversation. Now we will do it through struggle. For the sake of our present and our future, we have been given no other choice.
WGA NEGOTIATING COMMITTEE
Just after midnight on May 2 2023, the Writers Guild of America went on strike and began picketing in the 2023 Writers Strike. The strike was preceded by the 2007-2008 writers strike, but new labor-related conflicts arose between strikes. Streaming revenue structures and residual income were primary elements of the 2023 WGA dispute, with inflation and the advent of artificial intelligence also cited as factors harming writers. In its May 1 2023 statement, the WGA said that members “must now exert the maximum leverage possible to get a fair contract by withholding our labor.”
Update, September 27 2023
On September 27 2023, the Writers Guild of America’s (WGA) strike came to a tentative end after 148 days of picketing.
On the evening of September 26 2023, the WGA tweeted to announce a “tentative agreement” between the parties:
In the tweet, the WGA linked to a statement, “2023 MBA Tentative Agreement.” It reiterated that the agreement awaited ratification, and explained anticipated near-future developments and a timeline for finalizing the deal:
The WGA reached a tentative agreement with the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers on a new three-year Minimum Basic Agreement. On September 26th , the Negotiating Committee, the WGAW Board and WGAE Council all voted unanimously to recommend the agreement. It will now go to both guilds’ memberships for a ratification vote. Eligible voters will be able to vote from October 2nd through October 9th , and will receive ballot and ratification materials when the vote opens.
The WGAW Board and WGAE Council also voted to lift the restraining order and end the strike as of 12:01 am PT/3:01 am ET on Wednesday, September 27th . This allows writers to return to work during the ratification process, but does not affect the membership’s right to make a final determination on contract approval.
Now that we have finalized the Memorandum of Agreement (MOA), we can share details of this exceptional deal, with gains and protections for members in every sector of the business …
Additional details regarding the terms to which the WGA and the AMPTP agreed upon to end the strike are available here.