The United States is seeing one of the biggest writers strikes in 15 years. The ongoing strike started earlier last month and is the biggest one seen since the 2007-2008 writers strike that lasted 100 days and cost the industry $2.1 billion in losses.
The Writers Guild of America (WGA) is a labour union that represents writers who write content for TV shows, movies, the news and many other sources of entertainment that have a massive audience. The writers and the WGA draw attention to concerns related to temporary employment, non-unionized labor and the evolving landscape of technology. They actively support and advocate for the advancement of United Nations Sustainable Development Goals for Decent Work and Economic Growth.
The last three year contract, between WGA and the Alliance of Motion Picture and TV Producers) which is renewed every three years expired on the first of May this year, according to Los Angeles Times. The AMPTP represents over 350 production companies in the United States, some of which include Universal Studios, Netflix and Walt Disney Studios. In 2020 the different parties involved were not able to have “meaningful conversations” or negotiations because of the pandemic. Many of the issues surrounding the writing strike today in 2023 were not felt in 2017; topics such as AI or “mini-rooms” weren’t even something to consider back then. Since both parties couldn’t come to an agreement, a whopping 97.9 per cent of unionized WGA members voted in favour of the ongoing strike.
There are several reasons why the WGA decided to go on strike but some of the main issues include proper wages for workers, better contracts so that workers know that they have long term work and protection from AI technologies and the future uncertainties on the creative industries.
Since the rise of streaming services, writers have had to face much more uncertainties in their field. Streaming services have shorter seasons, a big gap in between each season and less paying wages. The services are also able to get away with a more recent issue known as the “mini room.” Mini rooms are a way to make fewer writers work on scripts before the shows are even pushed out for production. This ensures that writers do not get paid if and when the show picks up.
Some of the shows impacted by the strike include big names across many streaming service platforms, as well as many late night talk shows. Stranger Things on Netflix, Abbott Elementary on ABC, Handmaid’s Tale on Hulu and NBC’s late night shows such as SNL and The Daily Show are just some of the many shows to feel the effects of the strike. Writing shows is a long process, and writers are needed while the show is in the running process. When writers strike they also contribute to a huge ripple effect, which halts production. This then has a domino effect on various other workers, everyone from set electricians to directors to other industries like catering and makeup artists as well.
In order to be competitive in the streaming service industry, platforms need to have lots of content for their watchers. To captivate viewers, content creators often employ a strategy commonly observed in the realm of streaming services: rebooting past TV series. This approach has been seen in the revival of shows like That 70s Show with That '90s Show and Full House with Fuller House. It’s an easy tactic, because nostalgia is easy to sell, and doesn’t require as much effort to get high viewership.
However, writers get the short end of the stick here as well. Using tactics such as nostalgia in order to gain a quick and massive audience, doesn’t always mean the content created is good. Many times, this isn’t the best tactic, as many reboots have gotten cancelled only after a few seasons. Some of the examples include the Gossip Girl reboot and Pretty Little Liars: The Perfectionists, just to name a few.
All these issues combined hinders the chances of writers having a job that they can rely on. Shows are constantly being created, and then being cancelled. There is no way of knowing how stable a job might be, let alone picking a project that may be of interest to the writer. If a job is stable and of interest to the writer, it would further create better content.
In an interview with CBC, Abdul Malik, a screenwriter renowned for his work on CTV medical drama Transplant and the Prime Video series "Streams Flow From A River," highlighted the streaming era's positive impact on Canadian writers, providing them with increased opportunities in the United States. "America is really high for Canadian writers if they can make it there," said Malik.
He reveals that his friends in Los Angeles have been enduring deteriorating working conditions over the years. Similarly, Canadian writers face similar challenges to their American counterparts, including smaller writers' rooms and tighter project development schedules to meet accelerated timelines according to CBC.
Writers are showing the world the behind the scenes of what is really going on in the showbiz world. While this strike is not going to halt all media and the impacts as a viewer and an audience is not as noticeable, it is also important to realize as a consumer the future of artistic careers.
The writers are highlighting a concerning reality that extends beyond the entertainment industry. The insufficient compensation in creative industries raises questions about accessibility and inclusivity. Are these industries only accessible to a specific demographic?