Over 100 Days In, We Have Only Just Begun to Feel the True Impact of the WGA and SAG-AFTRA Strikes

TV Features Industry
Over 100 Days In, We Have Only Just Begun to Feel the True Impact of the WGA and SAG-AFTRA Strikes

When the Writer’s Guild of America went on strike in 2007, they managed to reach a deal with the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers (AMPTP) that paved the way for streaming to become the giant that it has. The residuals they were entitled to after the 2008 contract was ratified weren’t huge, but they were something that set a precedent for the following 15 years of television. Streaming has gone from a New Media experiment to a household utility that has given us some of the best TV of the last decade. One would think that this would lead to the foundation the WGA put down in 2008 being strengthened as streaming became more successful. It makes sense to pay creatives for their good work so that they can do more good work, right? In reality, we have passed the 100-day mark that the last WGA strike ended on, we’re coming up on the one month mark for the SAG-AFTRA strike, and there is not a deal in sight for either party.

What has become clear in these strikes is the AMPTP’s desire for the writers and actors to roll over and get financially curb-stomped so that the studios can exploit them even more. The amount of money the studios would save if the WGA caved is somewhere under $500 million—around 9.5 David Zaslavs or 13-ish Bob Igers. Instead, because the writers and actors refuse to back down from asking for reasonable compensation for their work, the AMPTP has put a $3 billion crater in California’s economy. Being able to underpay writers and do full-body scans of background actors without compensation is apparently more important than making sure that there’s an economy to go back to when TV and movies can be made again. 

As more actors and writers speak out in the wake of the strike, Hollywood’s propensity for cutting corners has become more and more apparent. Former Disney Channel actor Joey Bragg stated that Disney would reboot their successful shows like The Suite Life of Zack and Cody, Hannah Montana, and Liv and Maddie in order to keep paying their actors under the minimum basic agreement established by SAG-AFTRA. By consumer standards, the shows weren’t canceled, but The Suite Life On Deck, Hannah Montana: Forever, and Liv and Maddie: Cali Style were all ways that Disney could continue to make successful television without paying actors their full rates. Furthermore, outside of getting literal cents in residuals for their work, writers are asked to participate in “mini-rooms,” where they do the same work they would do in a regular writer’s room while getting paid significantly less. In most instances, they’re paid the minimum amount required, but these are veteran writers, not fresh blood. From the side of the studios, there is no precedent for mini-room compensation, so it’s easy to save money with them. Not only do you not have to pay the writers participating as much as usual, you don’t even have to make the show if the three episodes you get out of the underpaid writers are deemed unsatisfactory. 

Aside from the short-term consequences, there are longer-term, broader effects that these strikes will have, of course. The last strike led to over 50 shows getting shortened seasons, along with a handful of cancellations, which included Girlfriends not getting a proper series finale despite the fact that it had been in its final season. The 100-day strike that took place in 2007 and 2008 fell after the majority of television seasons had been written and plotted out, so while some of the shortened seasons were of a less-than-satisfactory quality, the impact was not as severe as the effects we have only just begun to see this time around.

While streaming runs on its own calendar of releasing new seasons of TV whenever they want to, broadcast TV has followed the same release schedule for decades. Usually, the first 8-10 episodes of a season are released on a mostly weekly basis in the fall, with the other 8-14 episodes of the season releasing in the spring, and the writing for the next season starting in the late spring and early summer. The Abbott Elementary writer’s room was supposed to go back to work the first week of May, so even if SAG-AFTRA had pulled a deal together with the AMPTP, the actors would have no material to film for the fall season. There will be no linear television in the fall at all, and the longer both strikes go on, the less likely it is that there will be anything but reality shows and competition TV as we break into 2024. Streamers like Netflix are able to delay their releases for a longer time, but eventually, there will be no new TV for them to push out. 

So far, no shows have been explicitly ended because of the strikes (La Brea is about as close as it gets), and as big as the money hole the AMPTP is digging by not giving up some ground in these fights is, canceling successful TV is an even bigger one. Like everything else in Hollywood, this strike is about money, and it will only end when the AMPTP realizes that it’s going to cost more for them to not have anything to make money off of in the next six months than it will to agree to fair terms with the writers and actors that bring in all that money in the first place. 

As luck would have it, the AMPTP and WGA went back to the negotiating table on August 11th. We can only hope that something productive comes from their talks and that SAG-AFTRA will be close behind them, but at this point, the AMPTP is at their mercy. The studios might have all the money, but after almost a century of taking as many shortcuts as possible, something has to give. There is no other option than to give people what they’re owed, and until they can reach a deal with the actors and writers, the landscape of TV is only going to get bleaker and bleaker. 

Kathryn Porter is a freelance writer who will talk endlessly about anything entertainment given the chance. You can find her @kaechops on Twitter.

For all the latest TV news, reviews, lists and features, follow @Paste_TV.

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