Weâ€™re in anÂ era of peak TV, but the fire hose flow of shows â€” from late-night comedy to scripted dramas â€” could come to a screeching haltÂ very soon.
Members of the Writers Guild of America, which representsÂ the scribes behind television and movies, will vote Monday whether to authorize their union to call a strike. This comes as negotiations between the union and studios barrel toward a May 1 deadline, when the old contractÂ expires.
Even though there are more shows than ever before and the small-screenÂ business seems to be booming, writers have some majorÂ grievances with how Hollywood pays them, as well as with the guildâ€™s pension and health plans. And if an agreement cannot be worked out between the WGA and the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers (which is representing the studios), writers will strike for the first time in a decade.
Hereâ€™s what you need to know.
How will a strike affect my daily intake of network, cable and streaming shows?
That all depends on how long a strike would last. Scripted shows could have to end their seasons early and viewers will see a big dent in the summer TV season.
But the most immediate effect would be felt by late-night comedy, whereÂ daily or weekly episodes are churned out of New York or Los Angeles, with legions of writers penning jokes, monologues and elaborate sketches.
That could be a big dealÂ in 2017, with Donald Trump as president and aÂ bigÂ appetite among viewers for political comedy on TV. For instance, â€œSaturday Night Liveâ€ is experiencingÂ some of its highest ratings in years, so much so that NBC decided to air its final four episodes live, coast to coast. There are still three episodes left before SNL breaks for the summer â€” May 6, 13 and 20 â€” that could never get made. NBC also planned special prime-time, 30-minute editions of â€œWeekend Updateâ€ for August. Comedy Central will premiere a Trump-parody talk show this week, and roll out a new post-â€œDaily Showâ€ series in the fall.
Putting late night aside, itâ€™s possible a whole bunch of viewers wonâ€™t notice too much of a difference because of the ability to binge-watch on streaming services such as Netflix and Hulu. A strike may end up being the time viewers just catch up on all that good TV they missed.
Will writers actually strike?
Maybe. Maybe not. Mondayâ€™s vote authorizes the guild (whichÂ is the combined effort of twoÂ unions representing writers in the east and west) to call a strike. If the writers vote yes, and itâ€™s likely they will, the guild and studios still have a week toÂ hash things out and finalize a new contract. But after May 1, the old contract expires and the unionÂ has promised a work stoppage.
â€œShould this occur, writing for television, feature films and digital series will cease,â€ the guild said in a letter to media buyers earlier this month. The guild announced it would resume talks on Tuesday.
So, basically, the studios and union have a week to work things out. And the studios have publicly beenÂ keeping mum.
Why are the writers unhappy?
Central issues involve shoring up theÂ WGAâ€™s health plan, which is facing a deficit, securing family leave and protecting the guildâ€™s current pension plan. The WGA arguesÂ that writersâ€™ average yearly income has decreased while studiosâ€™ operating profits have doubled from a decade ago.
The other main point at playÂ involves how writers are compensated.
TheÂ flood of new shows on air and digital platforms, which provide endless space for content, is fueling â€œpeak TVâ€ and changing how shows are made. But writers are still paid per episode, an older formula.Â There are wayÂ more scripted shows now than in the past, but the norm has shifted from 22-episode seasons to about 10 to 13, and shows now take longer to produce. In recent years, the number of scripted series jumped by 50 percent, but the number of produced episodes only grew by 6 percent, according to the Hollywood Reporter.
While taking more time to produce an episode can make for better TV, writers argue they are losing out on pay â€” especially with exclusivity deals that makeÂ it hard for writers to get work on other shows to make up the difference, and more series overall that areÂ less likely to go into syndication.Â The writersâ€™ demands include loosening some of those exclusivity rules, and increased fees.
Whatâ€™s happened during previous strikes?
The last strike lasted 100 days, fromÂ November 2007 toÂ February 2008. Many scripted shows, such as â€œ30 Rockâ€ and â€œHeroes,â€ cut their seasons short. Some talk shows continued on, and late-night hosts improvised (Conan Oâ€™Brien killed timeÂ by spinning his wedding ring on his desk).
Some hosts, such as Jon Stewart, did return to the air sans writers (Stewart rebranded his Comedy Central show as â€œA Daily Show With Jon Stewartâ€). David Letterman also came back after his production company, which owned his show, struck its own interim deal with the WGA.
But when it came to the big screen, many said they felt the effects of the strike all the way intoÂ 2009 with a bunch of bad movies. Michael Bay blamed the strike for ruining â€œTransformers 2,â€ since they only had three weeks to put the story together.Â Other movies,Â including â€œX-Men Origins: Wolverine,â€ â€œG.I. Joe: The Rise of the Cobraâ€ and â€œTerminator Salvation,â€ were also affected.
Okay, but do weÂ really need writers for shows?
Well, thereâ€™s always reality TV.
During the last work stoppage, CBS ordered additional seasons of its flagship reality competition shows to fill airtime. And then thereâ€™s NBC.
Trumpâ€™s â€œThe Apprenticeâ€ had been removed from the networkâ€™s lineup amid low ratings. But a new programming chief came aboard in 2007, and the network decided to revive the competition show, but with a twist. And when the writersâ€™ strike meant no more new episodes of â€œThe Officeâ€ and â€œScrubs,â€ NBC replaced the Thursday night shows in 2008 with â€œThe Celebrity Apprentice.â€
A New York Times headlineÂ from the time reads, â€œWriters Guild Helps Out Donald Trump.â€