Writers Strike FAQ: Everything You Need to Know About the (Possible) Shutdown

The Writers Guild of America contract expires at midnight tonight, and all of Hollywood is on edge, anticipating a possible strike.

As is typical, rumors are flying around. So here are clear answers to all of your questions — except one.

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Will there be a strike?

We don’t know.

But what are you hearing?

The two sides continue to negotiate, and could reach an agreement before the contract expires. They also might not, which would likely — though not certainly — lead to a strike.

Why don’t you know?

There’s no shortage of people who say that a strike is inevitable. The studios surely have to operate as if it will happen. And the writers have to show they aren’t afraid of a strike either. But it’s not clear how predictive that is, or whether it’s just posturing to seek maximum leverage. “Hope for the best, prepare for the worst” is great advice here. We’ll know soon enough.

What do writers want?

Money, for starters. Writers are seeking a “sea change” in their compensation, starting with a significant hike in guild weekly minimums. They also want to rewrite the formula for streaming residuals to pay writers more for hit shows and to pay more with the growth in international subscribers. They want to expand “span protection,” a contractual provision that limits the time period that studios can retain writers for their episodic fee to 2.4 weeks, so that it covers writers making $400,000 and above, which would increase their “overscale” pay substantially. The guild has estimated that the total cost of its proposals is $600 million. They also want changes to working conditions. They want a minimum staffing level for TV writers rooms. They want writers to work for a guaranteed minimum number of weeks per show. They want provisions that would require that writers be involved in production and post-production of shows, so that writers get producing experience. They want a provision that would protect writers’ compensation and credits from encroachment by AI, though they are not seeking to forbid the use of AI in screenwriting. If the writers go on strike, it would likely not be for any one or two of these issues, but rather for all of the above.

What do the studios want?

“A fair and reasonable agreement.” There is no sign, as yet, that they are open to a TV staffing minimum or a streaming residual formula that would incorporate viewership data, which they view as top secret. They are likely more flexible about pay hikes, especially on minimums, as employers across the country are agreeing to union contracts with first-year raises of 5% to 7%, due to high inflation. The WGA has acknowledged that the studios have made “small moves” in a “few areas,” though not what would be needed to get a deal.

If they don’t reach a deal Monday night, will the strike begin Tuesday?

Probably. The WGA has told Wall Street analysts that a strike would begin on Tuesday, and there’s been no indication otherwise. But all we know for certain is that guild leaders have the power to call a strike anytime after midnight. In the 2007-08 WGA strike, the talks broke down but restarted after the contract expired. The strike did not begin until five days after the expiration date. The guild and the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers could also agree to extend the current contract and keep talking.

If there is a strike, which shows will go off the air first?

The WGA has put out a list: “Jimmy Kimmel Live,” “The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon,” “Real Time with Bill Maher,” “Late Night With Seth Meyers,” “Saturday Night Live” and “Last Week Tonight With John Oliver.” All of those shows rely on writers to produce material right up to the last moment. Without writers, they would be forced into reruns.

Viewers might not notice too many other disruptions for quite a while. Shows that have already been produced, but not yet broadcast, will continue to air. A lot of shows have wrapped for the season. NBC’s “Law & Order” shows, including “SVU” and “Organized Crime,” just wrapped last week, meaning the footage is in hand with the network and the final episodes of those seasons should air without issue later this month. But CBS’s “FBI” and “FBI: Most Wanted” are still scheduled to shoot this week in New York, so their current seasons could be impacted.

A strike might have to go on for several months before it impacts next season’s shows. And for a lot of shows, the traditional seasonal calendar doesn’t mean too much. Showtime’s “Billions” is scheduled to film Season 7 scenes this week in New York, but it does not have a premiere date announced, so it doesn’t have a target to miss — yet.

Will TV production halt if there is a strike?

Not entirely. Reality shows, news, sports, interview-based talk shows and other non-scripted entertainment are not subject to the WGA agreement and will continue. And even some scripted production could continue. The WGA cannot stop showrunners from coming to work in their “producer” capacity, so long as they don’t do any writing. For them, it really is an individual decision. Some may feel a lot of social pressure if they continue to work while their lesser-paid colleagues are on the picket lines. In that case, they might hand off the producing duties to a non-WGA producer, who would keep the production going.

And many shows will certainly shut down. Most showrunners (who are WGA members) will likely stop all of their producing work on shows to demonstrate solidarity with their guild, and in that case it might make more sense for a studio to halt production.

Will film production be affected?

If a film already has a completed script, it shouldn’t have a problem. But if the script needs rewriting during production, no WGA writer would be available. A strike that lasts several months could delay production of films for which scripts are not yet complete.

The Directors Guild of America and SAG-AFTRA will still have “no strike” clauses in place. Individual actors or directors may choose not to come to work during a WGA strike, but they can be replaced or even — hypothetically — sued if they breach a personal services contract.

Writer-directors might feel the same pressure that showrunners feel. Such “hyphenates” are members of both the WGA and the DGA and would be on strike in their writer capacity but allowed to work in their director capacity. They can walk off set if they’re not comfortable, but they can also be replaced.

Will Teamsters cross picket lines?

No, but they might not have to in order to get to work. The Teamsters also have a contract in place, and leaders cannot tell them to walk off the job if the writers strike. However, they also have a long tradition of not crossing active picket lines. If a Teamster driver encounters a picket line on their way into a studio lot, they have the right not to cross it without fear of discipline. However, they might not encounter a picket line, or they might arrange to go through a different entrance where no picketing is taking place. The other below-the-line guilds might do something similar.

Will the impact be the same as 2007-08?

No. In 2007-08, TV meant broadcast and cable. Broadcast operated on an assembly-line model, where shows were written, produced and distributed in a tightly orchestrated sequence. So when the writers went on strike, it derailed the whole process. In 2023, TV is broadcast, cable and (mostly) streaming. The streaming production model runs on a longer timespan, more akin to film, where writing and production are separated and shows are produced long before they are distributed. Broadcast is still broadcast — but it’s a smaller piece of the total pie. The streamers also have massive libraries of content at their disposal — though of course the most popular shows tend to be the newest ones. So while there will be disruption, it may not be as impactful as it was in 2007-08.

Will a strike lead to an increase in reality TV and international programming?

The studios naturally have backup plans in place, and that includes producing and importing content that is not subject to the WGA contract. But it’s easy to overstate the effects here. The “reality boom” of the ’00s long predated the 2007-08 strike, beginning with ABC’s “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?” in 1999 and CBS’ “Survivor” in 2000.

What if the actors and directors strike?

Armageddon. The SAG-AFTRA and the DGA contracts expire on June 30. It would be a nightmare scenario for producers if either of those guilds went on strike. Unlike with the writers, production of scripted shows really would shut down completely. Neither guild is seen as being as strike-prone as the writers, but this year could be different.

Jennifer Maas contributed to this story.

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