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Writers Guild of America strike begins

Writers Guild of America strike begins


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After rejecting what the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers (AMPTP) said was a final offer, representatives of the Writers Guild of America (WGA) called a strike for all the union’s members to begin at 9 a.m. Pacific Time on March 7, 1988.

The origins of the strike went back to late 1987, when producers began demanding that writers accept a sliding scale on residuals–payment received when work is re-broadcast after its original airing–from domestic syndicated reruns of one-hour shows, claiming that syndication prices had dropped. Writers balked at this restriction; they also wanted a bigger share of foreign rights and more creative control over the scripts they were writing. With negotiations stalled, the current contract between the AMPTP and the WGA expired at midnight on March 1, and the strike began a week later.

Some companies got around the strike by signing interim deals with the WGA, including Carsey-Werner Co., producers of The Cosby Show, who were able to continue production on a new sitcom, Roseanne, which shot to No. 2 in the ratings that season. Near the end of July, after the writers rejected a settlement, the entertainment lawyer Ken Ziffren stepped in to run interference between the two sides of the conflict. Along with the producers’ chief negotiator, Nick Counter, Ziffren got both producers and writers to modify their positions in time for a meeting in early August at the headquarters of the AMPTP in Sherman Oaks, California. Sixteen hours later, the strike was over, after the two sides struck a deal by which producers upped the payment for foreign rights and writers agreed to the sliding scale on syndication residuals.

Though it came at a relatively opportune time, as the networks were winding down TV production for the summer, the five-month walkout still had an effect. Overall network ratings dropped 4.6 percent that fall from a year earlier, and many viewers began watching cable channels, which were not affected by the strike because they showed little original programming. Overall, the walkout was estimated to have cost Hollywood some $500 million. One enduring effect of the strike was the increasing ubiquity of so-called “reality” programming. As networks scrambled to fill the holes in their schedules, they relied on such programs as Unsolved Mysteries, which began as an NBC special but was expanded to a regular series by the network during the strike. Fox’s unscripted police reality series COPS made its debut the following year, and such shows would become increasingly popular during the 1990s.


1988 Writers Guild of America strike

The 1988 Writers Guild of America strike was a strike action taken by members of both the Writers Guild of America, East (WGAE) and the Writers Guild of America, West (WGAW) against major United States television and film studios represented by the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers (AMPTP). The strike, which ran from March 7 to August 7, 1988, affected production on movies and TV shows. At 153 days, it remains the longest strike in the history of the WGA, surpassing the 1960 strike by one week and the 2007–08 strike by seven weeks.


The 2007-08 Writers Strike

Because of our fascination with glamour and money, events that happen in Hollywood seem way more exciting than events that happen elsewhere. This goes for everything from Hollywood courtships, to Hollywood marriages and divorces, to Hollywood babies, to Hollywood drug and alcohol arrests. They all titillate us. Great Britain may have its royal family, but America has its movie stars.

This same fascination more or less applies to Hollywood labor unions as well. Let the Steelworkers or Mineworkers or IAM (International Association of Machinists) go out on strike, and the general public usually greets the news with a collective yawn but let Tinsel Town's TV and movie scriptwriters hit the bricks, and most people are going to take notice.

In 2007, the WGA (Writers Guild of America) went on strike against the AMPTP (Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers), the people who run Hollywood. Glamour or no glamour, this was your classic case of Labor vs. Management. The writers vs. the producers. Those with talent vs. those with money. Proletariat vs. bourgeoisie. Oppressed vs. oppressor. Surfer vs. ho-dad. You get the picture.

The 2007 strike was the third major strike in WGA history. The first walkout occurred in 1959-1960, and lasted almost six months, which, in movie studio time, is about eight years. By all accounts, the writers won that strike, having obtained from it not only their first comprehensive health and pension plan, but the right to "residuals." Residuals is money a writer (or actor) gets when their shows are re-aired.

For decades producers have made millions of dollars in advertising revenue off re-runs. That a small fraction of that money should go to the men and women who wrote the original scripts (and without a script, you ain't got a show) seemed eminently fair. Still, fair or not, it took a debilitating six-month strike before the producers would part with any of that dough.

Alas, the 1988 strike was a different story. The '88 strike, which also lasted roughly six months, was largely centered around money earned from home video. And in this regard, the AMPTP stonewalled the union, plain and simple. They pretended that home video didn't generate anywhere near the revenue the union claimed it did. Unable to persuade the Alliance to give them a larger cut -- even a modest one -- the WGA had no choice but to strike.

The 1988 strike was a terrible flop. While the union deserves enormous credit for not buckling, for doing exactly what a principled labor union is supposed to do when it faces crunch time, the WGA pretty much got their butts handed to them. They were on the street for six long, uncompensated months, and once they settled and returned to work, they realized they had basically gained nothing. Score another one for the producers.

In many ways, the 1988 strike was the progenitor of the 2007 strike, with the writers still bitter and frustrated over how they'd been denied a fair share of VHS, cable, and DVD (which were invented in 1995) revenue, while the producers continued to get rich. Because it was a fantasy to expect to recover lost revenue, the WGA decided to hold firm on the next cash-generating technological innovation coming down the pike -- so-called "New Media," the streaming of shows on the Internet.

Once again, the producers screwed them. And why wouldn't they? Why wouldn't they cheat them? They have more money, more connections, more guts, more guns. Plus, they have the accountants and lawyers. Predictably, the AMPTP pretended that this new technology was just a fad, a passing fancy, that it was too early to take it seriously, that only when the Internet was shown to be an authentic and reliable source of income would they even consent to discussing shared revenue.

But the WGA was hip to that tactic. They knew that, as with VHS, cable and DVDs, once this new technology was firmly in place, once the lawyers and accountants had their grubby paws on it and money was already going into the producers' pockets, it would be too late. To have any chance at getting a fair shake, they had to catch these guys before they could obfuscate and devalue what they had.

The WGA struck on Friday, November 2, and began picketing the following Monday. The strike lasted roughly 100 days. It's fair to say the WGA didn't get anything close to what they wanted. One thing that hurt them was the DGA (Directors Guild of America) agreeing to a new contract on January 17, 2008. Once the DGA accepted the AMPTP's offer, the WGA didn't have a prayer of getting a better one. On January 24, a week after the directors settled, the WGA recommended ratification of the AMPTP's last, best and final offer. The strike officially ended February 9, 2008.

What stands out about the 2007 writers' strike is how similar it is to every other strike. Whether strikes involve well-coiffed screenwriters living in Malibu, or blue-collar workers living in Gary, Indiana, they all break down to same thing: a battle over money. Moreover, the tactics used by management are almost always the same -- whether dealing with a Hollywood guild or a pipe fitters union.

A writer I know told me that in the 2007 negotiations, the AMPTP used a transparent "rollback" tactic. This is where a company pretends to be serious about taking away something very important, then allowing you, in the eleventh hour, to "talk them out of it," leaving you with the buoyant feeling that you succeeded in stopping them from doing something which, in truth, they had no intention of doing. In the AMPTP's case, the threatened rollback was to take away WGA residuals.

This Labor Day we should take a moment and ask ourselves why so many of us root for the Establishment. For a country that, historically, has taken great pride in embracing the underdog, we seem to have lost our footing. We root for the wrong side in these labor vs. management disputes. Working people are the underdogs. All of them. Including those lucky enough to be represented by a labor union. Can't we see that?


Writers Guild of America strike begins

The origins of the strike went back to late 1987, when producers began demanding that writers accept a sliding scale on residuals–payment received when work is re-broadcast after its original airing–from domestic syndicated reruns of one-hour shows, claiming that syndication prices had dropped. Writers balked at this restriction they also wanted a bigger share of foreign rights and more creative control over the scripts they were writing. With negotiations stalled, the current contract between the AMPTP and the WGA expired at midnight on March 1, and the strike began a week later.

Some companies got around the strike by signing interim deals with the WGA, including Carsey-Werner Co., producers of The Cosby Show, who were able to continue production on a new sitcom, Roseanne, which shot to No. 2 in the ratings that season. Near the end of July, after the writers rejected a settlement, the entertainment lawyer Ken Ziffren stepped in to run interference between the two sides of the conflict. Along with the producers’ chief negotiator, Nick Counter, Ziffren got both producers and writers to modify their positions in time for a meeting in early August at the headquarters of the AMPTP in Sherman Oaks, California. Sixteen hours later, the strike was over, after the two sides struck a deal by which producers upped the payment for foreign rights and writers agreed to the sliding scale on syndication residuals.

Though it came at a relatively opportune time, as the networks were winding down TV production for the summer, the five-month walkout still had an effect. Overall network ratings dropped 4.6 percent that fall from a year earlier, and many viewers began watching cable channels, which were not affected by the strike because they showed little original programming. Overall, the walkout was estimated to have cost Hollywood some $500 million. One enduring effect of the strike was the increasing ubiquity of so-called “reality” programming. As networks scrambled to fill the holes in their schedules, they relied on such programs as Unsolved Mysteries, which began as an NBC special but was expanded to a regular series by the network during the strike. Fox’s unscripted police reality series COPS made its debut the following year, and such shows would become increasingly popular during the 1990s.


10 Years Ago, Screenwriters Went On Strike And Changed Television Forever

In late 2007, “How I Met Your Mother” co-creator Craig Thomas faced an unusual situation. After penning the script for Episode 11 of the CBS comedy’s third season alongside fellow creator Carter Bays, he found himself handing off the pages they’d written. The scenes were to be filmed without his presence on set — or any of his writing staff, for that matter.

“We tried to get the script as tight and manageable as possible with the knowledge that there would be no writers on set to punch up any of the jokes or fix any of the words,” he explained. “At a certain time of the night, we just had to hit send and the script went to our producer and director and we said, ‘Have a great shoot week. We’ll be picketing outside of the lot.’”

Thomas and Bays were two of roughly 12,000 TV and film and television writers who were striking on behalf of the East and West unions of the Writers Guild of America, a walkout caused by stalled negotiations with the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers that all but ground scripted television like “HIMYM” to a halt in late 2007 and 2008. (Members of HuffPost’s union are represented by WGA East.)

The organizations were in the midst of negotiating a new three-year contract. But after the AMPTP, the trade association affiliated with corporations like CBS and NBCUniversal, failed to meet the demands of the guilds, writers embarked on a 100-day stalemate.

During that time, guild writers no longer took work. In terms of television, that meant there were no new scripted episodes available for the networks to air besides those commissioned before the strike. More than 60 TV shows shut down as a result, and ratings and ad sales plummeted. By December 2007, most scripted series were off the air and not set to return for months. The CW’s “Gossip Girl” and “One Tree Hill” faced shortened seasons NBC’s “Heroes” only completed 11 episodes of the 24 expected for Season 2, and was off the air for nine months the third season of Fox’s “Bones” was cut short as the show went on a four-month hiatus. Late-night programming all but disappeared (until hosts like Conan O’Brien, Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert fought to return without writers citing the financial struggles of their non-writing staff), and award shows like the Golden Globes were canceled.

In total, the strike cost the state of California over $2 billion and 37,700 jobs, according to nonprofit economic think tank the Milken Institute.

For a show like “HIMYM,” the prospect of a lengthy pause was daunting.

“Everyone had to stop [working] and that was scary, as the show was just gaining some momentum,” Thomas said.

But there were larger interests at stake.

Audiences used to watching movies in theaters and TV at designated times in their homes were getting acquainted with a new kind of viewing experience: streaming video. Industry experts at the time predicted that so-called “new media” content ― shows and movies distributed online or viewed on computers, cell phones and other devices ― would eventually supplant DVDs in terms of profits. (Spoiler alert: They did.)

Initially, the big studios ― MGM, Sony, Warner Bros. and Disney, among others ― took home most, if not all, of the profits of this “new media” content the WGA had no formal agreement with the companies on how to compensate writers for this kind of online or on-demand distribution. So when it came time to renegotiate a contract in November 2007, this issue was key.

According to the WGA , the AMPTP began negotiations by offering paltry residuals for new media and expressed a desire to deny the guilds future jurisdiction over scripts written for the internet. And the group felt as though it had no choice but to strike.

“It was one of the most important strikes of the new century to date,” Lowell Peterson, executive director of the WGA East, told HuffPost. Although Peterson was not a part of the WGA East until after the strike ended, he was interviewing for the role of director during the walkout and was in communication with leadership throughout the entire process. He witnessed the picketing firsthand and considers the strike to be “the first major labor action of the digital age.”

“This was a bunch of employees confronting the impact of information technology and digital technology on their way of living, and that was something that resonated very deeply across the labor force and the labor movement,” he said.

The strike officially ended on Feb. 12, 2008. The guilds won a piece of digital revenues and established a percentage payment on the distributor’s gross, and shows like “HIMYM” resumed with their writing staff in tact.

“Our perception was that it was very successful,” Peterson explained. “That as a result of the strike, the guilds were able to win jurisdiction and residual payment terms that otherwise simply wouldn’t exist. It looked like a great victory.”

But, it wasn’t an easy road. Not only had writers been out of work, they’d returned to an industry indelibly changed by their fight.

The Rising Tide Of Reality TV

While scripted television series were forced to take a hiatus during the strike, this was not the case for reality TV shows.

Once pre-strike commissioned episodes ran out and fictional series were on lockdown, broadcast and cable networks clamored for any original content they could find to fill their schedules. As a result, some industry watchdogs connect the writers strike with the boom of reality television, considering more than 100 unscripted shows ― from competition shows to dating shows to life improvement series ― either debuted or returned during that 2007-2008 season.

However, Eli Holzman, the current CEO of The Intellectual Property Corporation and the creator/developer behind series like “Project Greenlight,” “Undercover Boss” and “Project Runway,” has a slightly different take on the strike’s impact on reality TV. He believes the explosion of unscripted television in 2008 was a long time in the making.

“Nonscripted TV was on the march really from the early 2000s, with the advent of ‘Survivor,’ ‘Who Wants To Be A Millionaire?’ and ‘Big Brother,’” Holzman explained. “The genre came into its own and it mirrored the trajectory and growth of cable, and commissioning increased each year. Yes, the strike was one important factor in that. But to me, slightly less important than the growth of cable and the audience’s embrace of the genre.”

As Holzman described it, scripted television was in the doldrums beginning in the mid-aughts. Viewers, he said, were bored with the slog of too-similar sitcoms, cop dramas and medical shows. From 2005 to 2007, for example, “American Idol” reigned supreme while the high-rated “Grey’s Anatomy,” “CSI: Crime Scene Investigation” and “House” eventually slipped below “Dancing with the Stars.” According to Holzman, audiences craved a fresh start. Cue the rise in reality television projects, which hit their stride in the 2000s. They peaked in 2015, when 750 nonfiction programs ( 350 of them brand new ) aired on cable.

“Suddenly, this genre — Oh my god, all these people are going to get left on an island with nothing and they have to vote each other off, and someone is going to win a million dollars? ― was new and different and we wanted new and different versus a copy of a copy of a copy,” Holzman said. “The strike is an easy moment to look at when suddenly we all became aware of a change that was going on that maybe we hadn’t noticed before. But that change was happening on its own.”

WGA East’s Peterson agrees with him.

“I would not say that reality TV was created by the writers strike. I would say that more people watched it because there was nothing else on,” he added, noting that reality TV was simply “the only alternative, other than reruns,” for networks to air in lieu of their regularly scheduled programming.

Still, Holzman admits the strike did help to advance certain reality programs. “Project Runway,” for instance, aired its fourth season from November 2007 to March 2008 and earned pretty solid ratings for Bravo. The finale roped in 6.1 million viewers in the 18-49 demo when Christian Siriano won. Later in 2008, Lifetime took over the series and ratings increased by nearly 30 percent. Episodes of NBC’s “Biggest Loser” moved from a one-hour slot to two in order to fill primetime space. CBS aired its first, and last, “Big Brother” winter season . “Keeping Up with the Kardashians” began its reign on E! “American Idol” capped off a historic season in May 2008 with 31.7 million finale viewers, helping Fox become America’s most-watched network for the first time ever.

“As the strike wore on, the [reality] business was robust,” Holzman reiterated. “As a typical Hollywood producer, I thought I was just really talented [ Laughs ]. I didn’t realize I was potentially riding a wave. I thought, ‘I’m so good at this! This is so easy!’ That was genuinely my impression, and I didn’t realize we were in the midst of what was going to be a boom.” o

Indeed, when guild writers returned to work, reality TV was no longer just a cloying trend. Thomas admitted that, as a scripted TV showrunner, it wasn’t easy to watch reality programs top the ratings week after week from there on out.

“I remember being really stressed out in the first couple of years of ‘How I Met Your Mother’ because we were losing to a reality show all the sudden,” Thomas recalled. “That show ‘Deal or No Deal’ was this huge sensation and we were like, ‘Oh man, we’re losing to suitcases of money being opened up!’”

The ‘Death’ Of The Baby Writer

There were other long-term effects of the strike, though, not just for veteran writers, but aspiring ones, too.

About 20 years ago ― a decade before the writers strike ― a handful of these promising writers’ assistants, or “baby writers” as they were sometimes called, were working with Holzman at Miramax Television on a Kevin Williamson project called “Wasteland.” The show, about a group of post-college pals, aired only three episodes in 1999 before ABC canceled it. But out of that particular wasteland came a crucial opportunity. Since the studio heads were still required to fulfill the 13-episode order for foreign buyers but no longer felt pressure to deliver top-level content, aspiring young writers were given the chance to pen the remaining scripts for the series.

“We were in a blowout game where you take the kids off the bench and you put them in because it doesn’t matter,” Holzman told HuffPost. “One of those writers’ assistants was Damon Lindelof, who would go on to create ‘Lost’ and has obviously had an extraordinary career. Here’s a voice that, because of that flourishing ecosystem, was able to be identified, nurtured and grown, and his writing was then brought to all of us: the audience.”

Unfortunately, the months of foot-dragging from AMPTP negotiators in 2007-2008 messed with that flourishing ecosystem, Holzman says, dismantling a once healthy community that fostered creators of all ranks.

“As the strike and the decline in commissioning wore on, the people who maybe had previously been a rung or two up the ladder were willing to take a job and come back at a lower level, a lower rate. If you’re running a show and have to staff it, you have the ability to hire a kid who’s promising but never done it before or someone who’s really competent and is going to take a pay cut to work at that level. You’re almost crazy not to hire that more seasoned person. So, that baby writer pathway into the business went away,” he said, “and that was tragic.”

Then-“baby writer” Nick Bernardone, however, was one of the lucky ones. “I got my first job as an office production assistant on ’30 Rock’ [in 2008] by literally walking into the office at the exact right time and asking if they needed someone. It was one in a million timing,” he told HuffPost. “The answer was something like, ‘Usually, this would be insane . but can you start tomorrow?’”

After working alongside the likes of Tina Fey, Bernardone went on to become a member of the writers’ room on her Netflix series, “Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt.” He insists he wouldn’t have gotten the gig had he not worked similar jobs on shows like AMC’s “The Walking Dead” and Netflix’s “Bloodline” in the interim.

Thomas and Bays also entered the business relatively easily. They were hired as writers for David Letterman just a few months after graduating from Wesleyan University in 1997, well before the strike. And they opted to pay it forward.

“Through the run of ‘How I Met Your Mother,’ we promoted several of our writers’ assistants, mostly post-strike,” he said. “One of them was Matt Kuhn, who ended up being a writer on the show for the entire rest of the run after a couple of seasons as a writers’ assistant. We did the same thing with Craig Gerard and our personal assistant, Matt Zinman ― we promoted them to be full writers on the show for many years. And in the last couple seasons we promoted George Sloan.”

These days, Bernardone, who’s been nominated for four Emmy awards, believes breaking into the business is all about who’s willing to give you a slice of the pie.

“If someone likes an aspiring writer’s stuff, they’ll do their best to get them hired,” he said.

As unreliable as it might be, it’s a practice Holzman believes is necessary.

“It’s really important to nurture a new crop, a new generation of storytellers every year, because it takes a long time to get there and it takes a long time to learn your craft,” he said. “It’s like a bad year for grapes — in 10 years, we won’t have that vintage.”

The Streaming Pathway To Prestige TV

Beyond the birth of the reality television boom and the increase in obstacles for up-and-coming writers, the strike ushered in an era that the guilds and industry insiders always expected: the era of streaming TV.

In 2007, Netflix was on an upswing. The company had launched in 1998 as a mail-order competitor to the then-popular but ultimately terminal Blockbuster, which rented out VHS tapes, DVDs and video games to the masses largely via brick-and-mortar stores. By 2005, 35,000 different films were available through Netflix’s subscription service they reportedly shipped out 1 million DVDs every day. But soon enough, Netflix went the way of the internet, allowing its subscribers to browse through and watch films and shows by streaming them straight to their devices. By 2008, it had already identified its video-on-demand platform as the future. By 2013, Netflix had 27.1 streaming customers in the U.S.

In Thomas’ eyes, the writers strike was a pivotal turning point for the digital revolution helmed by Netflix, Hulu and other platforms. When the WGA refused to negotiate a contract without new media residuals, it signaled to the AMPTP and the entertainment industry at large exactly how powerful streaming services could be.

“We had front-row seats to this huge change, and I credit ’How I Met Your Mother’s success a lot to the influence of Netflix,” Thomas said. “The popularity of Netflix started to get so much bigger and in those next couple of seasons, ‘How I Met Your Mother’ got onto Netflix and was very, very popular on there. [It] enabled all these new fans to binge the first few seasons and catch up and we saw ratings on live TV, on CBS, bump up because of this streaming service.

“That was part of what the strike was about: making sure writers were fairly compensated for work that wasn’t created for Netflix but got on Netflix,” Thomas continued. “Right away, we saw how important that side of things would become ― even with helping shows do better on network TV.”

And as platforms like Netflix grew and enhanced, so did original content, leading to, as Thomas put it, the rise of prestige TV. Sure, standout shows like “The Sopranos” and “The Wire” predated the walkout, but he believes writers had “firmer ground” to work on following the strike and were able to experiment with a plethora of innovative scripted series in ways they weren’t able to before ― knowing that they have the option of pitching their shows to multiple networks, premium channels and streaming sites.

“It’s certainly true that for a while people were more worried that what we did was hand the industry over to reality TV, and that definitely has not happened,” Peterson added. “What we’ve seen since the strike is an enormous explosion of high-budget scripted television. Reality definitely supplanted scripted for a while but in the 10 years since the strike, scripted has just expanded beyond anyone’s dreams.”

Were writers brainstorming the next decade of prestige TV while on the picket line years ago? Although Holzman doesn’t know how many successful TV scripts were created during on-strike downtime, he believes there were ideas brewing.

“It’s not likely they were stockpiling scripts for things that weren’t commissioned, but were they writing for themselves and creating things? I’m sure. Just because Picasso goes out of fashion, I don’t think he stops painting. Similarly, if there isn’t a market for writers work, I don’t think that means that they cease to write. I wouldn’t be surprised if some great stuff originated during that time period.”

Thomas can vouch for that.

“Everyone had in the back of their head, ‘What if this goes on a really long time? What if our show goes away after this?’ You never relax. You have to prove yourself and fight for it, so you take nothing for granted,” Thomas said. “So I think everybody had a little panicked thought about what to do next. ‘Should I be thinking about possible alternative shows or features for after the strike?’ It was definitely a moment.”

Today, the effects of on-demand viewing are still a major concern for the WGA East and West.

“On-demand viewing seems to be supplanting virtually everything else, and that has changed the way our members do their work,” Peterson said. “It’s changed the nature of the shows. No one is constrained to, ‘It’s 8 o’clock on Wednesday, I’m going to watch CBS now.’ People watch what they want, when they want, and that’s given our members enormous opportunities.”

In the spring of 2017, WGA and AMPTP negotiations once again hit a snag over issues of compensation related to new media.

According to Peterson, there were a few things that drove it, including the fact that average TV earnings were increasing, due in part to things like decreased costs as the average television season became shorter. Tens of billions of profits were not being shared with writers.

“We had this enormous ‘yes’ vote authorizing the committee to call a strike,” Person said of the 2017 negotiations. “I think it was 96.3 percent yes, which is really an affirmation that members were ready to take action.”

After threatening a walkout, the AMPTP agreed to some of the guilds’ demands , likely with knowledge of what another writers strike would do to its industry. The guilds made gains across the board, added funding to their health plan and increases in subscription TV residuals , high-budget SVOD residuals, and, for the first time ever, residuals for comedy-variety writers in Pay TV. Now, writers for late-night and shows like “SNL” could see payment for content that’s re-aired on subscription sites or the internet. The unions also pushed to restructure compensation terms for writers of shorter seasons, making sure creators saw a piece of the studios’ profits.

“The Writers Guilds East and West are committed to the possibility of striking if that’s what it takes to win gains for our members, and we make sure that’s clear to the AMPTP when we sit down with them,” Peterson said. “The studios and networks know that we mean it and will do it if necessary, and that’s a lesson from the 2007-2008 strike.”

Holzman, for one, is glad another strike didn’t happen.

“The macro feeling across the industry was a strike will be bad because if we’re looking at leisure activity and how people are spending their leisure time. Television has competitors in a way it never had before in the form of the internet and mobile,” Holzman said.

“We’ve seen, and continue to see, an enormous migration of advertising dollars out of proper television — cable, broadcast and otherwise — and onto the web,” he added. “There was a sense that a prolonged strike may result in the audience declining, which it has been anyway. Maybe if there wasn’t great TV being produced, maybe the audience wouldn’t come back. I think that was a collective fear shared by both the producers and the writers, which encouraged them to find common ground to avoid another strike.”


Writers Begin Strike as Talks Break Off

LOS ANGELES, Nov. 4 — A strike by Hollywood writers began just after midnight Monday, as last-minute negotiations between screenwriters and producers to avert a walkout failed.

More than 12,000 movie and television writers represented by the Writers Guild of America West and the Writers Guild of America East began the first industrywide strike since writers walked out in 1988. That strike lasted five months and cost the entertainment industry an estimated $500 million.

A contract between the unions and the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers — which represents networks, studios and other producers — expired Wednesday night after more than three months of acrimonious negotiations. Guild leaders called for a strike to begin Monday morning. A federal mediator, who joined the talks last week, asked the sides to continue talking in a Sunday session.

Throughout the weekend, guild leaders held orientation meetings for strike captains, who would supervise picketing teams, and otherwise prepared for an effort to shut down as much movie and television production as possible. Representatives for the producers and writers on Sunday declined to comment on the talks.

The Writers Guild of America East said that beginning at 9 a.m. Monday, hundreds of its members would picket outside Rockefeller Center, with its cluster of major media companies in the neighborhood. And picketers here are expected to march outside more than a dozen studios and production sites in four-hour shifts, one beginning at 9 a.m., the other at 1 p.m.

The sides have been at odds over, among other things, writers’ demands for a large increase in pay for movies and television shows released on DVD, and for a bigger share of the revenue from such work delivered over the Internet.


If Writers Go on Strike, Viewers Can Expect More Shots of Reality

LOS ANGELES, Oct. 19 — During the last Hollywood writers strike, in 1988, David Letterman gave a blunt assessment of the quality of his show.

“We have nothing to do, the writers aren’t here,” he intoned at the opening of one show. “So a guy’s gonna come in and shave me. Fifty-five minutes, ladies and gentlemen! Fifty-five minutes to go!”

Viewers may want to brace themselves for a lot of similarly jury-rigged entertainment if writers and producers do not come to an agreement on a new contract by the end of the month.

A strike by the Writers Guild of America, which could begin as soon as Nov. 1, would cut a ragged edge across the entertainment industry, with television and movies affected in different ways. Depending on the timing and length of a strike, some television shows would grind along just fine, while others would jerk to a halt. “The Simpsons” is safe, for instance, but light a candle for “Lost.” And reality shows, whose writers are nonunion, will become even more of a television staple than they are now.

Meanwhile, moviegoers would not feel any immediate impact, because studios work a year or more in advance and have been stockpiling scripts to shoot in case writers walk the picket line. But some big franchise films, like the “Transformers” sequel, are likely to be delayed. And fans could suffer later on, as films pushed earlier into production surface with poor results in 2009.

“Any time you rush movies, you disrupt the rhythm, and I can promise you the result isn’t as good,” said John Davis, a producer of “Norbit,” “I, Robot” and other movies.

If a work stoppage lasts for just a few days or even a few weeks, there would be relatively little impact on the overall entertainment pipeline, producers say. Networks have between four and five episodes for many prime-time shows ready to go, while studios are wrapping and rushing into production already written movies that are not scheduled to arrive in theaters until the end of 2008 and into 2009.

But one sliver of the business in particular faces immediate disruption. Late-night shows from “Late Show With David Letterman” on CBS to “The Colbert Report” on Comedy Central are produced daily, with writers massaging the news of the day into comedic segments and monologues.

For a time, fans should expect to see repeat episodes, as if the hosts had departed on some kind of joint vacation, networks say. In the longer term, hosts like Jon Stewart of “The Daily Show” could just wing it, as Mr. Letterman and Johnny Carson did after several months of reruns in 1988. (At one point during that five-month industrywide strike, Mr. Carson filled time by looking at snapshots brought in by Ed McMahon.)

Networks say some late-night hosts could return to work without violating guild strike rules: while contracts vary, a performer writing for himself is covered by a separate agreement with the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists. A spokeswoman for the Writers Guild of America East said hosts could not write any more material than they personally handled pre-strike.

Daytime shows would suffer next. Soap operas like “The Young and the Restless,” viewed by some six million people a day, typically have a monthlong backlog of episodes. Because of their serial nature, soap operas do not perform well in repeats. Networks say they would try to maintain ratings during the day in the event of a strike by substituting more news and sports programming.

The rest of daytime is a jumble. News writers are represented by a different union, so “Today” on NBC and the cable news channels will be unaffected — except for the bags that will form under the eyes of anchors as they are pressed to fill more airtime. But talk shows are all over the map: “The View,” which uses union writers, would be thrown into more chaos than normal, while “The Martha Stewart Show” would continue cooking right along.

Of course, most viewers care about prime time. Although each network is different — with only two hours to program each night, and “American Idol,” which would be unaffected, on the way, Fox is sitting pretty — network executives say a couple of general rules apply.

Long-running shows like NBC’s “Law & Order: Special Victims Unit” are likely to stay in original episodes longer because they are further ahead in production than new programs like ABC’s “Pushing Daisies.” And the so-called sweeps periods in November and February, when advertising rates are set for local stations, still matter. So networks will keep what originals they have for those months and leave December and January more barren than usual.

Genre matters, too. Animated series like “The Simpsons” and “Family Guy,” completed up to a year in advance, are strike-proof for this season at least. Much more problematic are complicated serial dramas like “Lost,” which networks typically broadcast without repeats. With the next season of “Lost” (which begins in February) only half finished, ABC has a big decision to make: Should it show the episodes that are done? Or delay the program’s return until all episodes can be completed?

Of course, reality shows are not affected at all. Networks have been stockpiling reality material in the event of a strike. The CW network alone has five completed reality series ready to go: the returning shows “America’s Next Top Model,” “Beauty and the Geek” and “Pussycat Dolls Present,” and the new entries “Farmer Wants a Wife” and “Crowned,” about beauty pageants.

Warren Littlefield, an independent producer and the former president of NBC, who was that network’s executive vice president of programming during the last writers strike, said the news divisions would be pushed to deliver spicy specials to plug holes. He noted that the CBS newsmagazine “48 Hours” rose to prominence in 1988. Sports, concerts and shows produced in Britain and Australia are also likely to pop up in prime time, depending on the length of a strike. NBC is already looking at the possibility of broadcasting the British version of “The Office.”

The lack of a clear road map for consumers is a worry for entertainment executives. After all, movie and television fans, their allegiance already weakening as video games and the Internet eat up more leisure time, don’t need additional prodding to find something else to do.

“There is tremendous fear in the industry about breaking a habit,” Mr. Littlefield said. “During the last strike, the audience wandered and a lot of people didn’t quite come back.”

On the bright side, the 1988 strike played a big role in introducing at least one guilty pleasure to a national audience. Desperate for programming, Fox plucked “Cops” from a local station and placed it on Saturday night, where it continues to run.


100 Days That Changed Hollywood: The Writers Strike, 10 Years Later

A decade after scribes walked out over digital pay, The Hollywood Reporter gathers key players to reflect on the tension and "traitors," strategies and solidarity, picket-line romances and the ultimate deal that still impacts how the town runs today.

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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. &hellip 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 &mdash the industry’s first in nearly two decades &mdash ultimately lasted 100 days and, according to the Milken Institute, took a $2.1 billion toll on the L.A. economy.

Now, 10 years later, THR gathers more than three dozen people involved to share their recollections of the charged period and answer the complicated question of whether it was all worth it.

On Nov. 2, 2007, after three months of negotiations, the Writers Guild announced that its members would strike if a deal was not reached by 12:01 a.m. Nov. 5.

SHAWN RYAN, THEN THE SHIELD SHOWRUNNER AND WGA NEGOTIATING COMMITTEE MEMBER The final day of negotiations was at the Sofitel Hotel. We all felt like, “We’re going to make a deal today.” But by about 3 or 4 o’clock that afternoon, it became clear to us that the other side wasn’t really interested in making a deal that day.

DAVID A. GOODMAN, THEN FAMILY GUYWRITER AND WGA BOARD MEMBER Their point of view was, “We don’t know what [the internet] is yet.” But Hulu went live [a month after] the strike ended. They knew where the business was going.

BARRY MEYER, THEN CHAIRMAN OF WARNER BROS. These new-media models were beginning to emerge. We said, “Let’s see what develops in three years. If there’s something really there, we’ll address it then.” It sounded perfectly logical to us, but there was a credibility issue that we had with the guilds because we’d made that same speech related to home video, and they had to fight for years to achieve their goals.

PATRIC VERRONE, THEN PRESIDENT OF WGA WEST It was brinkmanship. They were just going to call our bluff, and we weren’t bluffing. Next morning, we were out on strike.

STEVE LEVITAN, THEN BACK TO YOU SHOWRUNNER AND UNITED SHOWRUNNERS LEADER In past strikes, some showrunners worked as producers through the [stoppage]. But our goal was to make this one as short as possible, so anything that made the companies keep going, we felt would be detrimental. I’d worked at Leo Burnett in the 󈨔s, so I volunteered to do an ad with pledges from all of the biggest showrunners not to work in any capacity if we went on strike. The ad led to some showrunner meetings. Five minutes before the first big one, we were in a circle it was Matt Weiner, me, I can’t remember who else, and someone said, “We need somebody to run this meeting.” Everybody turned and looked at me. In my mind, I thought, “Oh, fuck.”

SETH MACFARLANE, THEN FAMILY GUY SHOWRUNNER Those showrunner meetings were interesting because you didn’t have any hierarchy. It was a roomful of people who were each used to being the final voice in their respective rooms.

LORENZO DI BONAVENTURA, PRODUCER There was a total panic to get things moving as fast as we could in the hopes that the strike would not derail the movies we were putting together. For G.I. Joe, we brought on three writers and split up the script. It was really a Rubik’s Cube of trying to map out a process that I had never done before &mdash and I have never done since.

BILLY RAY, SCREENWRITER I was doing a movie called State of Play. On the last day before the strike, everybody was arguing about the ending. I knew I couldn’t write another word starting the next morning, so I wrote 10 endings, and sent them all in and said, “Take your pick.”

KEVIN FALLS, THEN JOURNEYMAN SHOWRUNNER Journeyman was my first show on the air. I had talked Kevin McKidd, who had just finished Rome, into moving his wife and family to the U.S. from England to be the lead, and I felt responsible for now upending his life.

MARTI NOXON, THEN PRIVATE PRACTICESHOWRUNNER I was running Private Practice with Shonda [Rhimes], and part of us was so tired that we were like, “Please, let’s have a strike.”

BEN SILVERMAN, THEN NBC CHAIRMAN I had been named chairman of NBC [five months earlier], and I remember asking [then CEO] Jeff Zucker, “What are we planning if there’s a strike?” The basic feeling there and in town was, “There’ll never be a strike.” Then bingo, it happens. The first thing hit were our late-night shows, where we built no contingency. We were super-well-positioned otherwise. I knew Biggest Loser could expand, I greenlit Phenomenon and American Gladiators. Then I came up with the idea of doing Celebrity Apprentice. I reached out to Mark Burnett, who said, “There’s no way Donald [Trump] will want to be around other celebrities. He has to be biggest celebrity.” And I said, “Actually, he’s going to be the biggest celebrity because he’s going to be the boss.” I called up Trump and he agreed, and we relaunched to huge ratings.

Hundreds and sometimes thousands of writers took to the picket lines, held daily outside the major studios in L.A. and corporate headquarters in New York.

GREG DANIELS, THEN THE OFFICE SHOWRUNNER I was the first writer to picket because I had to get to our set at 4 a.m. to try to prevent the Teamster caterers from crossing the line.

MICHAEL SCHUR, THEN THE OFFICE WRITER Steve Carell decided that if The Office couldn’t be produced with the writer-producers on set then he wasn’t going to make the show. So even though the “Dinner Party” episode was done and ready to be filmed, he just didn’t show up, and everything came to a grinding halt. The NBC lawyers and very high-powered suits pressured him like crazy, but he just calmly told them he wasn’t interested.

J.J. ABRAMS, SCREENWRITER-DIRECTOR It was ridiculous. In the morning, I’d go to picket at Paramount as a writer. Then when my call time happened, I would have to put down the signs and go in as a director and work on a movie [Star Trek] that we couldn’t rewrite because the script had to be locked.

JANE ESPENSON, THEN BATTLESTAR GALACTICA WRITER I remember young writers &mdash aspiring writers &mdash approaching me to walk beside me on the picket line. It’s a strange situation, to give advice about getting into a business while you’re in the process of protesting conditions within that business.

RENE BALCER, THEN LAW & ORDER SHOWRUNNER Some development guy at Fox nudged his car through the line and bumped into me. He came out yelling. The police who investigated it called it mutual combat and decided not to press charges against him. Then I turned it into an episode of Law & Order, where there was a strike and some loudmouth gets run over. Yep, I monetized my experience.

ELENA TROPP, THEN SCREENWRITER My daughter Rosie was born in August 2007, so she came with me. We thought it would be funny to make signs for her, like, “Stop milking us.” The plus of wearing your baby while you’re doing this is that a lot of people came up to us, like Mindy Kaling, who asked to take a picture with my baby. Then we were on Defamer. The headline was, like, “Strike Baby spotted!” Once we knew we had an audience, we thought, “Let’s have some more fun with it.”

NOXON People who were single kept asking for introductions to other single writers [on the picket line]. It was Tinder before Tinder.

TONY GILROY, SCREENWRITER-DIRECTOR We were looking for names to [picket]. I didn’t really know Ron Howard, but we shared an agent, so I called him and said, “Hey, man, is there any way …?” The guy was there in an hour.

RON HOWARD, DIRECTOR I was in the WGA, but I also had a production company so I wasn’t sure how they’d feel about me. They might feel my sympathy was on the other side. But I was very much welcomed.

KERRY EHRIN, THEN FRIDAY NIGHT LIGHTSWRITER I remember we were having a mother- son event at the school in my neighborhood, and this woman, who was the wife of an agent, just pointed at me: “She’s one of them!” It was funny and awful &mdash like we were just a few steps away from the torches and pitchforks.

LEVITAN I remember at one point being at a rally where people were chanting these childish things aimed at the executives, and I’m thinking, “We’re not doing ourselves any favors here.” I just felt like it was beneath us. There was one sign that still makes me laugh, though: “Gary Newman’s wine has too many tannins.” Now, that was funny.

JOHN WELLS, SCREENWRITER AND FORMER WGA WEST PRESIDENT I remember walking the Fox picket with people chanting, “Hey, Chernin, what you earnin’?” after the executive [pay at Fox] came out, which was pretty great. I ran into [then News Corp. COO Peter] Chernin, and he thought it was fabulous, too.

ZAK PENN, SCREENWRITER My wife was a studio executive at New Line, and people were yelling at the execs as they were driving [onto the lot]. It left a bad taste in my mouth since I was sleeping with the other side.

MACFARLANE There was this animosity between showrunners who shut their shows down, like we did, and those who didn’t. But writers are so passive-aggressive, it came in the form of grumbling to each other.

Talks between the WGA and AMPTP broke down Dec. 7, after the two groups remained far apart on the key issue of new media.

MICHAEL LYNTON, THEN SONY CEO There came a moment where I was encouraged by a number of people to go visit [WGA executive director] David Young at the Writers Guild. I sat in the waiting room at the appointed time. And waited and waited. After 45 minutes, the receptionist called for the second or third time up to Young, and I could hear him say, “You should allow Mr. Lynton to wait there a while longer.” When I finally got into his office, it resulted in absolutely nothing.

LEVITAN I was really optimistic that a deal was going to happen before the holidays, and then I heard on the way to this Hanukkah dinner that [talks had broken down]. I was crushed. I get to this dinner, and [Disney CEO] Bob Iger and Michael Lynton are also there. I’m friends with those guys, and I make eye contact with them. The first moment that we could break off, the three of us walked off to a side room. I remember going, “What the fuck happened? Why can’t we solve this?”

LYNTON Running into friends who were writers in living rooms and kitchens was much more awkward than crossing a picket line.

LEVITAN Bob had this theory on what the problem was. He thought it had to do with WGA management and their negotiating tactics, and I took issue with that, but I quickly realized that they wanted to sit down and negotiate with a Hollywood insider.

VERRONE Management kept hammering, “David Young doesn’t understand the entertainment industry.” I joked that I did have to explain to him the difference between The Sopranos and The Simpsons, but other than that he understands what the entertainment industry is. They said, “We’ll meet with you if you bring in an entertainment lawyer.” So, we called in Alan Wertheimer.

ALAN WERTHEIMER, THEN OUTSIDE COUNSEL FOR THE WGA I got the call from David Young while I was at the Sundance Film Festival. I didn’t say yes right then. I knew if I got into this, I’d be out of the office for quite a while, and I needed to talk to my colleagues. What I had heard was that things had reached an impasse and that the parties didn’t like each other.

As the strike threatened to drag into the new year, many late-night hosts announced they’d return, largely sans writers, as early as Jan. 2. The 65th Golden Globe Awards, slated for Jan. 13, was canceled, with the winners announced at a no-frills press conference instead.

JIMMY KIMMEL, JIMMY KIMMEL LIVE!HOST The strike basically wiped out all my savings because I was paying a lot of the staff that was out of work. That’s a big reason why I had to go back on the air. I wasn’t making a ton of money at the time, and I couldn’t afford to do it anymore. I also felt if we stayed off the air, it was going to do permanent damage to our shows.

VERRONE We decided to make a side deal with David Letterman’s company [Dec. 28] so that [The Late Show and The Late Late Show] could go back to work. That was rife with complications, not the least of which was the fact that Jay Leno’s writers suddenly said, “What about us?” But they were employed by NBC, while Letterman employed his writers directly.

STEVE BODOW, THE DAILY SHOW WRITER It wasn’t an easy time. After years of us being in battle together every day making this show, for the first time we were on the opposite side of something. Jon [Stewart] was very frustrated &mdash he’d worked out a deal with somebody to offer the same terms Letterman had, but the deal wasn’t accepted [by the guild]. It was uncomfortable because, in general, Jon was very loyal to the writers and the writers were loyal to Jon, and this tested that.

KIMMEL For the most part, it brought a lot of us [hosts] together, especially when the CBS shows got to go back [with writers] and we didn’t. That really made everyone mad. For the record, that was not a good idea. But we were all talking. Nobody wanted to be the first back. We all wanted to go back at the same time.

JORGE CAMERA, THEN PRESIDENT OF THE HFPA We tried every which way we could [to still have the Golden Globes]. I was even told I should go chain myself to the Writers Guild and not leave until they let us have them. Once the actors joined the strike and would not cross the picket line, there was no choice for us.

SILVERMAN I got in all of this trouble because I went on the radio and said, “It’s like the guys who weren’t invited to the prom are canceling prom even though the Golden Globes have nothing to do with the strike.” I was not only furious because it was the only awards show canceled that year and the network was being leveraged horribly and hurt financially but also I was nominated for three shows [as a producer] and I wasn’t going to be in that awesome room.

On Jan. 14 , dubbed by the media “Black Monday,” the major studios axed more than 40 writer-producer overall deals, citing the “force majeure” clause, which allows a party to break a contract in the wake of an unforeseeable event. The loss of millions of dollars roiled the WGA membership, with some groups pushing for a swift end to the strike.

FALLS There was talk that the studios might force majeure writers’ overall deals, but I naively thought I wasn’t going to be one of them. Then my agent called and told me I was being “forced.” I thought he was joking. Then Jennifer Salke [then at 20th Century Fox TV] beeped in, and I knew I was a goner.

HOWARD MICHAEL GOULD, SCREENWRITER AND THEN WGA NEGOTIATING COMMITTEE MEMBER I was told that there was a group [nicknamed The Dirty 30] that had been meeting. They were concerned about the direction things had been going. They were upper-middle-class writers, and I was told they were going to go public with a statement demanding that the Writers Guild pledge, even before the DGA deal was sealed, to accept the parameters of that deal. I was given a name and a number and I called.

VERRONE To this day, I have no idea who was in The Dirty 30.

JONATHAN PRINCE, THEN CANESHOWRUNNER Am I the only one admitting I was in it? I remember we left this one meeting and there were fliers on each of our cars that basically said, “You’re a traitor, I know who you are.”

GOULD I negotiated a sit-down. Robert King and I went to Jonathan Prince’s house. There were about three dozen of them. And they were furious. They tore into us for two hours. Our message to them was, “We know you’re hurting, but there’s nothing to be accomplished by doing what you’re going to do before the DGA makes their deal. If you do this, it will undermine the DGA’s negotiation.”

PRINCE We never undermined the negotiations. I know that in order to make any gains, there must be pain. We just thought that the pain should have been ours, the writers, it shouldn’t have been others’ to bear. And getting a bigger piece of the backend of this future technology doesn’t trickle down to [nonwriters]. How would that have helped my caterer who lost her mortgage or my greensman who had to move out of L.A.? We weren’t traitors. By day, we were walking the picket line and reporting to our strike captains and by night, we were saying, “How do we get this thing to end?”

RAY We were really afraid that the DGA would begin to negotiate their deal while we were still out there. It was all anyone talked about: Is the DGA going to torpedo us? I reached out to a bunch of writer-directors and I invited them to my house. There was 40 of us, and we began to call ourselves &ldquoThe WD-40.&rdquo We wrote the DGA asking them to stay out of their negotiations until our strike was resolved. We called people to try to get them to sign the letter. I only had one guy who basically told me to go jump in the lake &mdash it was John Carpenter.

KEN ZIFFREN, OUTSIDE COUNSEL FOR THE DGA There was pressure put on by the Writers Guild. But the DGA firmly believed if you make a deal sufficiently ahead of time to take the pressure off of management, you’re going to make a better deal than if you stumble into it last minute, or even after a short period of strikes.

The DGA signed its new deal Jan. 17, 2008. After that, key factions within the WGA pushed aggressively for the strike to end. Both sides returned to the table in an attempt to hammer out a contract.

WELLS Once the DGA made that deal, our bargaining position was significantly reduced.

MICHAEL WINSHIP, THEN WGA EAST PRESIDENT That was a low point. God bless ’em, they got a deal, but we felt strongly that they fell on our backs.

GILROY I was very disappointed in the Directors Guild, and angry. If we could’ve pressed just a little bit further and really threatened to shut down the Academy Awards. … I would have been willing to not go to the Oscars.

AARON SORKIN, SCREENWRITER Paul Attanasio called and asked if I’d come to a meeting at his house. There were about 20 people, including a former president and a former vice president of the Guild. The DGA had just approved their contract, and people in the room who knew what they were talking about felt that the terms were the best we were going to get.

AKIVA GOLDSMAN, SCREENWRITER The emotional fuel for the strike had started to outpace the potential gains. We were sitting around [at Attanasio’s house] going, “Let’s get our hands in this in a more direct way.”

MEYER Leslie [Moonves], [Chernin], [Iger] and I met fairly regularly to talk strategy. We had a standing table at the Bel Air Hotel.

RYAN The issue was we were a group of decision-makers who were empowered to make a deal and we spent months in a room with people who weren’t &mdash people who then had to go back to some room and call [the CEOs].

VERRONE So we said, “In exchange for us bringing Wertheimer, you’ve got to bring in CEOs.”

WERTHEIMER Once we were close to the finish line, those guys [Iger and Chernin] started showing up. Then we made some progress.

VERRONE Chernin and Iger represented the two factions of the AMPTP. Chernin was the hard-liner who represented Fox, NBC and Warner Bros. The other side was Iger, whose best interest was in making sure the Academy Awards went off in a few weeks, and Moonves, who was looking to make a deal much earlier than anybody else.

RYAN If we had been negotiating only with CBS, there never would have been a strike. It didn’t make sense for them. For a company like Fox, which didn’t have as many hours of programming and relied very heavily on American Idol at that time, they had a different perspective.

VERRONE Those final negotiations took about a day and a half. We were at the Luxe Hotel under a press blackout.

JOHN BOWMAN, WGA NEGOTIATING COMMITTEE CHAIR At the end, there was a lot of confusion about what we would settle on. I’m not sure we even knew what our bottom line was. The negotiating committee was made up largely of showrunners, and the board had a slightly more proletarian, workaday-writer feel. There was a sense that some on the board might hold out for animation or DVDs. My feeling was we needed a win, and we needed to be unified. I was getting phone calls from labor leaders all over the country throughout saying, “Labor’s taking a hit. You have to win this.” A public split would have been a disaster.

After 100 days, on Feb. 12, 2008, more than 90 percent of the WGA voted to end the strike. On Feb. 26, WGA membership approved a three-year contract, with the Writers Guild winning a piece of digital revenue.

WINSHIP I had decided to go ahead and have the [WGA East] awards because I thought it would be good for morale. It turned out to be this incredible fortuitous coincidence. We had the meeting to announce the end [of the strike], immediately followed by this party.

GOLDSMAN Our business &mdash how deals worked, how writers worked within the system &mdash has never been the same.

BRYAN FULLER, THEN PUSHING DAISIES SHOWRUNNER It’s no exaggeration to say there was a punitive cloud that wove across writers rooms and interactions with studios for years. There was a lot of blame going around.

TROPP I stopped writing not that much longer after the strike. It became so much harder to get jobs. Rosie’s in the fifth grade now, we live in South Carolina, and we showed her some of those old pictures from the picket line. She’s going through a social justice phase, so it was a nice entree to, “This is a union and this is what unions do. I’m sorry that at the end of that strike there wasn’t room for me writing movies anymore, but that’s OK, too.”

FALLS Journeyman never got a second season. But for Kevin McKidd, I’m relieved to say, it turned into a pot of gold. The next year he started his first of 10 seasons on Grey’s Anatomy. He also learned to surf. &hellip

VERRONE We absolutely didn’t get everything we wanted, but getting the jurisdiction in new media completely changed the way writers, actors, directors and the entire industry are employed. If we hadn’t done that, Netflix wouldn’t be what it is today, which is the company that employs something like a third of our members now.

WELLS Patric and some of the other leaders, who did a courageous job running this strike and standing up to tremendous pressure, were later punished electorally. But they were planting seeds for the future.

RYAN I don’t know that you can look at the landscape in 2018 with everything that’s playing online and not see that us caving and not winning jurisdiction over the internet would be anything other than an utter disaster for the creative community.

Additional reporting by Michael O’Connell.

A version of this story first appeared in the May 16 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.


Writers Guild of America strike begins - HISTORY

A peculiar spectacle in Hollywood and New York, and everywhere else TV shows and motion pictures are being made, is before us. The writers are on strike. At stake? Contracts with TV and motion picture producers over royalties from DVD and other “new” media, which has grown by leaps and bounds since their last contract.

This is a very legitimate issue which any producer of intellectual property (in this case scripts, screenplays, etc.) should be properly concerned with. The problem here though, and it’s a problem which exists for the entire industry, is why writers (and I mean good and exceptional writers) would ever want to tie themselves to unemployed, mediocre, or otherwise bad writers under the same contract. The advantage for the sub-par, or even par, writers is obvious. A share of revenue they would otherwise either never get or would only get on a very lucky day. The talented writers, however, have no such advantage. In fact, even a much better contract than the one they currently have is likely to be inferior to a contract their abilities and value could net them were the writing labor market a free one. This is a demonstrably true (both in economic theory and in practice) proposition, and thus puts a strike against the age-old idea that economic interest alone determines one’s actions. So why do the talented ones “go along” with this (for them) waste of time and hit to their pocketbooks?

One reason is ideological. Hollywood and the acting/producing community in general has staid remarkably true to its unionist heritage while much of the rest of the economy has moved very quietly and successfully away from unions. Even the best and most talented writers take pride in their belonging to a “guild” of craftsmen, much like their medieval forbears upon which their organization is based. Of course, laws back up this activity (writers are legally able to collectively quit their jobs temporarily without any repercussions other than an obvious lack of pay) and thus add a coercive element that would otherwise be entirely lacking. And it is well known that, as a group, actors, writers, producers, directors, etc. are a very liberal group of people among whom a pro-union proclivity is a sine qua non of their culture.

Another reason is fear. Standing against ones peers on an issue like this is a scary prospect on many levels, not the least of which is the deserved reputation for violence which striking mobs of workers have gained over the years. Not only that, but if you are not confident in your moral right, as a talented individual, to not be shackled to the dead weight of your inferior colleagues, you’re hardly likely to put yourself forward to suffer the abuse which would be inevitable. Also, anyone in such a community who asserted their superiority and thus their ability, desire, and right to make as much as that ability allowed them (far above their less talented fellow writers) to, would have aspersions like “selfish,” “individualist,” “greedy,” or that horrible appellation given to any who is thought to work for themselves amidst a strike “scab,” attached to their careers and reputations. Such a person would soon find themselves blacklisted by their industry and by their guild. This is ironic given the myth that Hollywood survived persecution and is anti-blacklist (they just did not like the criteria for the movie studio blacklist from the 40s and 50s).

Perhaps another reason is economics. Some successful writers, not particularly confident that their abilities will be around forever, may reason that sticking with the union contract, as opposed to being paid what they are worth as an individual writer, is the safer and, in the long-run, more profitable path. These people, while successful now, are thinking as if they were one of their more mediocre colleagues. This reasoning betrays a lack of confidence in their talent common among today’s successful people in all fields of endeavor. It is actually portrayed today as a virtue to have confidence “issues” or to display humility, anything to avoid the appearance of arrogance: arrogance taken to mean a grand view of one’s talents and worth and a willingness to boast about it. The actual meaning is something closer to a deliberately invalid and inaccurate view of one’s talents and worth and a compulsion to boast about it. One would just be dishonest to not give an accurate appraisal of their virtues and faults, abilities and deficiencies, pros and cons dishonest with others but also, just as important, dishonest with themselves.


Live entertainment and chat shows

The genre that would be impacted most immediately would be the live entertainment and late night chat shows.

Unlike UK weekly talk shows fronted by the likes of Graham Norton and Jonathan Ross, most US chat shows - which are also broadcast in the UK - air every night.

As you can imagine, that requires a heck of a lot of material, and therefore a heck of a lot of writers.

The likes of Jimmy Kimmel Live, Saturday Night Live and The Tonight Show starring Jimmy Fallon would struggle to stay on air.

During the last strike, talk shows hosted by David Letterman, Jon Stewart and Conan Oɻrien all ran repeats instead of airing new programmes.

Many stayed off air until the strike was over, while some returned and filled air time by ad-libbing or airing previously-recorded segments.

Oɻrien, Letterman and Jay Leno even started to pay some of their regular writers out of their own pockets to provide new material during the strike.

In 2007, some networks stockpiled episodes to try and minimise the impact of the writers' strike.

A few soap operas like Days of Our Lives and All My Children had their scripts completed to last them through to January, when the strike was due to end.

Dramas such as The Wire and The Shield also completed filming their current seasons and so were unaffected.

Some shows were cancelled altogether, despite having ended on a cliff hanger (you can imagine how viewers reacted to that).

Others had their seasons cut short (Pushing Daisies), had new episodes delayed (24, Entourage) or their season length shortened (30 Rock, Breaking Bad, The Big Bang Theory).

Many of the shows due to begin this summer would likely be unaffected as they're already in production or completed, such as Veep, Fear The Walking Dead and Orange Is The New Black,

But shows which are due to begin in the crucial fall season, which writers begin working on in May and June, are at severe risk.

As the new letter from the WGA states: "Any delay in the start of work has the potential to postpone fall season premieres and reduce the amount of new programming available to advertisers and audiences."

This would affect brand new shows as well as programmes already hugely popular with audiences like Modern Family and Empire.

Of course, a strike wouldn't just impact TV shows - films can suffer as well.

Perhaps the most obvious casualty of the last one was the slightly dodgy James Bond film, Quantum of Solace.

Hot on the heels of the hugely popular and critically acclaimed Casino Royale, expectations for Daniel Craig's second outing were high.

But the actor famously ended up writing some sections of his own dialogue because of the lack of writers available to work on the movie.

The franchise redeemed itself with Skyfall and Spectre, but other standalone films didn't have that luxury.

Johnny Depp adventure drama Shantaram was put on hold because of strike-related script issues and was never made.

Oscar-nominated musical Nine, which starred Nicole Kidman, Daniel Day-Lewis and Fergie from the Black Eyed Peas, was severely delayed.

Production had to be postponed from early 2008 to the second half of the year, pushing back its scheduled release date.

And at the height of awards season, the 2008 Golden Globes were cancelled with the winners read out at a press conference as there was no one to write the host's jokes.

Thankfully a deal was reached in time to allow stars to dress up and go to the Oscars.


A Selection of Further Reading

Banks, Miranda. The Writers: A History of American Screenwriters and Their Guild. New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press, 2015

Ceplair, Larry and Steven Englund. The Inquisition in Hollywood: Politics in the Film Community 1930-1960. Garden City, N.Y.: Anchor Press/Doubleday, 1980.

Hamilton, Ian. Writers in Hollywood 1915-1951. New York: Harper & Row, 1990.

McCall Jr., Mary C. “A Brief History of the Guild.” The Screen Writer 3, no. 11 (1948): 25-31.

Ross, Murray. Stars and Strikes: Unionization of Hollywood. New York: Columbia University Press, 1941.

Schwartz, Nancy Lynn. The Hollywood Writers’ Wars. New York: McGraw Hill, 1982.

Wheaton, Christopher. “The Screen Writers’ Guild (1920-1942): The Writers’ Quest for a Freely Negotiated Basic Agreement." PhD. diss. University of Southern California, 1973. USC Digital Library. Web. 30 July 2020.

Media History Digital Library contains countless digitized motion picture trade and fan publications, integral to studying early Hollywood history.


Watch the video: Bill Maher on WGA Writers Strike (May 2022).