‘The Walking Dead’ will survive; Hollywood avoids writers’ strike
LOS ANGELES — It was a cliffhanger ending, but the Writers Guild of America and the studios have reached a new deal that will keep the scripts coming and Hollywood at work.
The threat of the first strike in a decade was averted after a marathon negotiating session that went past the midnight deadline, leaving much of Hollywood staying up late and checking social media, looking for hints as to whether there would be picket lines on Tuesday.
The parties issued a joint statement confirming the new three-year agreement.
In a memo to its membership, guild negotiators cited several key concessions, including increased studio contributions to their health plan, and a new definition for short-order TV series that will earn writers more pay for episodes that take longer than 2.4 weeks to produce.
The new contract also adds job protections for members on parental leave.
“Did we get everything we wanted? No. Everything we deserve? Certainly not,” the WGA memo added.
A crippling writers’ strike in 2007 brought scripted production to a screeching halt and dealt a significant blow to California’s economy; still, the latest talks between the studios, represented by the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers, and the WGA came down to the wire. Their existing agreement was set to expire at the end of the day on Monday.
Writers had been pressing a number of key demands, including the larger contributions to their health care plan.
For consumers, the immediate effects of a strike would have been visible first in late-night television, sidelining programs hosted by Jimmy Fallon, Stephen Colbert, Samantha Bee, and Jimmy Kimmel, among others.
The WGA cited massive studio profits as justification for the contentious negotiations, pointing to lavish CEO salaries as proof that writes merely deserved their fair share.
In just the last few weeks, for example, it was reported that CBS Chief Leslie Moonves received a pay bump that brought his 2016 compensation to $69.6 million. NBC Universal’s Steve Burke took home $46.1 million in 2016 and AMC Networks’ Josh Sapan enjoyed a hefty $30.5 million last year, which amounts to a 72% raise.
The writers overwhelmingly voted last month to authorize a strike, giving their the leadership the leverage they hoped they would need to secure a more favorable deal. Still, many writers noted that they were voting for a strike with the hope it wouldn’t come to that.
The WGA negotiating committee included notable writers like Damon Lindelof (“Lost”), Jonathan Nolan (“Westworld”), Amy Berg (“Leverage”) and Beau Willimon (“House of Cards”).
“WGA MEMBERS: Thank you for your trust, your patience, and your heart,” Berg tweeted early Tuesday.
The WGA is one of three major talent guilds with which the studios must negotiate. The Directors Guild of America hammered out a separate deal late last year and talks with the Screen Actors Guild are expected to begin later this month.
Although certain aspects of the guild agreements overlap, each has their own individual concerns that can complicate the negotiations.
While the major studios are large enough to weather a strike for a while, there were incentives to avoid it. Among the most pressing are this month’s upfront presentations, when TV networks unveil their fall program lineups to advertisers.
Here’s a look at how some of your favorite TV shows would have been affected:
Though some late-night programs found ways to skirt the system back in 2007 — see David Letterman, who struck a side deal, and Conan O’Brien, who went on air with “unwritten” episodes — a strike now would sideline Stephen Colbert, Samantha Bee, James Corden, Jimmys Fallon and Kimmel, and “Saturday Night Live,” amid one of the show’s buzziest seasons ever. (“SNL” viewership is up 31% so far this season, according to NBC.)
On the plus side for “SNL,” it was set to go on its summer hiatus after May 20 anyway, although there were plans for some primetime “Weekend Update” episodes in August.
“The Walking Dead”
Though it may have fallen off some critics’ best-of lists last season, “The Walking Dead” still came in as one of television’s most-watched programs of 2016, and it remains AMC’s crown jewel. A strike would likely delay the show’s usual October start.
Filming for Season 8 only started back up about a week ago, but even if scripts have been stockpiled, no writers or showrunners would be available to make adjustments during filming.
Related point: With no “Walking Dead,” there would be nothing for Chris Hardwick to “Talk” about.
The writer’s room only recently started crafting stories for Season 7. A strike could delay the next season’s start.
“I’m really hoping it doesn’t happen,” executive producer Alex Gansa told CNN in April, adding that a strike would “throw a completely huge wrench in the works for us.”
Season 5 comes to a close at the end of May, and its airing won’t be affected by the strike.
But writing for Season 6, the show’s final season, has only just begun. All work on that would be halted.
Fret not, though, comrades. The previous two seasons each debuted in March, leaving the show’s staff plenty of time to catch up — if the strike doesn’t go on too long.
The Ryan Murphy universe
Ryan Murphy always has a show in the works and a strike could disrupt the delicate dance that is required to juggle his TV properties.
FX says production is currently underway on “Versace: American Crime Story,” the third season of the Emmy-winning anthology. And a planned season that will take on Hurricane Katrina has yet to ramp up.