Both writers and producers saw significant action occur relating to the Writers Guild of America (WGA) strike on Tuesday and Wednesday, with some showrunners wanting to meet writers directly later this week and more shows returning to air without writers.
The WGA strike, which started on May 2nd and has currently lasted 134 days, has been at a standstill with the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers (AMPTP) for months. The WGA, as well as SAG-AFTRA in their own strike, have been pulling for better residual fees for streaming service programs, better overall pay, a minimum number of writers on writing staff to ensure continued employment, and strict regulation on the use of artificial intelligence.
While talks between the WGA and the studios did restart last month, they soon broke down again. Politically, both Governor Gavin Newsom and Los Angeles Mayor Karen Bass have offered to be negotiators between the two sides but were summarily rejected by both unions and the AMPTP. State Treasurer Fiona Ma also called for an end to the strike last month, but was immediately called out for taking sides with the unions.
Earlier this month, the situation grew more dire for both sides. The studios, as well as other related entertainment-related businesses, were revealed to have fired around 17,000 employees in August. The unions, meanwhile, have seen a startling rise of strikers facing rent evictions and needing help to pat for expenses as their saving run out. Both are also currently awaiting counter offers, with both sides saying that the other needs to give one back.
For the studios, the week has brought good news as more shows have announced a return to production without writers. While some shows have made deals with the unions to come back in the past several months, others chose to come back without writers, including Jeopardy! and other game and reality shows. This was expanded to talk shows this week as several more, including the Drew Barrymore Show, announced that they would be back this month.
“I am also making the choice to come back for the first time in this strike for our show, that may have my name on it but this is bigger than just me,” said Barrymore on Instagram, alluding to needing to keep her production staff working. “I own this choice. We are in compliance with not discussing or promoting film and television that is struck of any kind. We launched live in a global pandemic. Our show was built for sensitive times and has only functioned through what the real world is going through in real time. I want to be there to provide what writers do so well, which is a way to bring us together or help us make sense of the human experience. I hope for a resolve for everyone as soon as possible. We have navigated difficult times since we first came on air. And so I take a step forward to start season 4 once again with an astute humility.”
While her announcement was met with retorts of her being a scab and “needing to do better,” she nonetheless said on Tuesday that the show would be back on September 18th. In retaliation, the unions announced that her New York studios would be the latest place for pickets.
WGA strike enters 20th week
Meanwhile, unions are set to meet with a few showrunners on Friday to see where negotiations currently stand and, if possible, try and find a way to resume talks. Both unions and studios are worried about the meeting. The WGA sees this as a possible break with showrunners in negotiations, while studios are worried that it could lead to a renewed front against them. Showrunners themselves, however, have said that they just want to help negotiations move along.
“I, like everybody, am frustrated with how long this has been dragging on, but there’s an enormous amount of solidarity here,” said showrunner and co-creator of Modern Family Steve Levitan. “That’s the important message to take from today is that while people are hurting and people are frustrated, they are united and they are strong in fighting for what we feel we deserve. I don’t think anybody is really second guessing and looking for ways to cause some disruption in the leadership of the guild. We’re just always trying to see if there are any ways anybody can help.”
Industry and strike experts told the Globe on Wednesday that the recent developments would likely not be enough to really restart negotiations in earnest, or, at the very least, have the strike end by the end of the months.
“Both sides are still too far apart and not willing to give up anything,” said Theresa Stevenson, an arbitrator in Michigan who has helped settled union disputes and strikes in the past. “Studios have had to fire a lot of people and have lost billions. Strikers are now starting to lose their homes and apartments. Both sides feel like they are in too deep to really make a big compromise. So the strike continues to go on. In a way, they’re just waiting for the other side to flinch too.
“Studios have the money to last longer, so we are probably going to see strikers get more desperate in the coming weeks. More shows are coming back too, and that really isn’t helping matters. And this has been a summer of success for unions by and large. This is embarrassing to the WGA that this has lasted this long. They aren’t saying it, but privately many members are saying that. Most just want to go back to work and are striking out of obligation.
“It will be a battle of wills more and more it seems.”
Should the strike last longer than October 4th, it would break the record for the longest WGA strike, which had previously been set in 1988.
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