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Tuesday 26 September 2023 Dublin: 13°C
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# WGA Strike
'It would decimate writers' careers': Why TV writers in the US are on strike
Strikers say they are trying to help maintain writing as a viable career.

SEVERAL OF THE US’ most popular TV shows have gone dark this week as more than 11,000 television writers across America began their first strike in over 15 years.

The Writers Guild of America has cited a 23% decline in pay for writer-producers over the last decade when adjusting for inflation, as well as concerns including changes in the industry that force writers to shift more quickly between jobs.

On the other side of the dispute is the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers, which includes major movies studios such as Paramount Pictures, Sony Pictures, Universal Pictures, Walt Disney Studios and Warner Bros., the principal American broadcast television networks, and streaming services like Netflix and Amazon.

Among the WGA’s core concerns are a lack of residual earnings for writers who work on shows that run on streaming platforms. The union proposed a deal where writers that are on more popular streaming shows would be compensated accordingly, which was rejected entirely by the AMPTP.

In many cases, streaming services such as Netflix do not make viewership data on their shows available to the public, or to the writers on the show.

As a result of the impasse, many late-night talk shows, such as those hosted by Stephen Colbert, Jimmy Kimmel and Jimmy Fallon have gone off-air immediately.

Production has also halted on some of media’s most popular series, such as Stranger Things, Yellowjackets, Saturday Night Live and American Horror Story.

Other major shows – such as Andor, House of the Dragon, and The Rings of Power – are continuing production for now, something that could possibly bear out in the quality of the programming, should rewrites be necessary. 

Josh Gondelmann, who was a writer for Last Week Tonight with John Oliver for four years, said that “there’s no reason writers should earn less money just because a giant mega-company decided it’s more profitable for them to distribute their work through different channels than they used to. But that’s how it is, and that’s how the studios want it to stay”.

Speaking to The Journal this week, Gondelmann said: “It would decimate writers’ careers, for sure. The studios are working hard to undermine protections that the WGA has spent nearly a century fighting for. I also think audiences will notice the drop-off in quality pretty quickly.”

“The way that some of these CEOs talk about the work we do is pretty appalling. They just want to churn out an endless stream of ‘content’ as cheaply as possible.”

Many high-profile figures, such as Bob Odenkirk, George RR Martin, Drew Barrymore, Cynthia Nixon, Jimmy Fallon, and President Joe Biden have expressed their support for the strike action.

“We’re really fighting to keep television and film writing a sustainable career. What we’ve asked for amounts to roughly 2% of these companies’ operating profits; it’s less than what eight entertainment CEOs made combined in 2022.

“Median writer/producer pay has gone down 4% in the last decade, and taking inflation into account it’s closer to 23%. All we’re asking for is a fair share of the profits we help generate, so that writing stays a viable career and doesn’t become a gig economy job”.

Gondelmann says that it’s not just television writers who should be concerned about trends in how workers are treated.

“It’s happening across industries, right? Employers aren’t using technology as tools to make work easier and better. They’re using it to replace human labor and drive down bottom line costs,” he said.

“This isn’t a new story, and it’s not unique to writers. It’s about corporate greed at the expense of the human beings who work for them.”

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