Writers and studios reach agreement

Thousands of Writers Guild of America members and supporters went on strike on Nov 9, 2007.
Thousands of Writers Guild of America members and supporters went on strike on Nov 9, 2007.PHOTO: REUTERS

Hollywood averts writers' strike that would have blacked out television talk shows and soap operas

•LOS ANGELES• Hollywood staved off a strike that could have blacked out talk shows and soap operas, as writers and representatives of movie and television studios kept talking past a midnight deadline into the early hours of yesterday.

The two sides drew up an agreement including provisions for shorter television seasons - an issue since the advent of streaming services - and a 15 per cent increase in pay-TV residuals, Variety.com reported.

They said in a joint statement at about 1.30am, soon after the expiration of the previous deal: "The Writers Guilds of America, West and East and the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers have concluded negotiations and have reached a tentative agreement on terms for a new three-year collective bargaining agreement."

The 9,000-member Writers Guild of America had said it was prepared to call for a stoppage and for picketing of the big studios as early as Tuesday, if no deal was reached by midnight Pacific Daylight Time on Monday (Singapore time 3pm yesterday).

Television talk shows that rely on writers for monologues and skits - The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon, The Ellen DeGeneres Show and Saturday Night Live - would have been affected first, followed by soap operas and some scripted summer series.

Members of the guild and other Hollywood unions had taken part in Monday's May Day march in downtown Los Angeles, held in support of workers' rights and union solidarity.

The two sides imposed a media blackout on the talks, which centred on the revolution in the television industry caused by the arrival of Netflix, Amazon and other streaming services - and a resulting sharp decline in the typical number of episodes in a season of a scripted comedy or drama series, from 22 to about 10.

The guild said that its members, who are paid per episode, have suffered an average 23 per cent drop in earnings in the past three years. Royalties for shows sold on DVDs, streaming platforms and cable TV are also at issue, along with funding for the guild's health plan.

Variety.com said yesterday's deal also covered health and parental leave benefits, citing a memo sent to guild members.

Writers last month voted overwhelmingly to authorise a strike - 6,310 ballots were cast, representing 68 per cent of eligible voters, with 96 per cent in favour of a walkout if no palatable deal was offered by studios.

A strike would have pitted union writers against entertainment conglomerates such as Comcast, the Walt Disney Co and Time Warner.

Television talk shows that rely on writers for monologues and skits - The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon, The Ellen DeGeneres Show, Saturday Night Live - would have been affected first, followed by soap operas and some scripted summer series.

In the last big Hollywood strike a decade ago, an enraged Writers Guild walked out for 100 days over pay for digitally distributed shows. Tens of thousands of entertainment workers were idled and the action cost the Los Angeles economy more than US$2 billion, according to the Milken Institute.

REUTERS, NYTIMES

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 03, 2017, with the headline 'Writers and studios reach agreement'. Print Edition | Subscribe