Since November 5th, 2007, the Writers Guild of America has been on strike, halting production of many of America’s favorite TV shows. The WGA East and WGA West have combined efforts to negotiate with American film and TV producers to find common ground and get everyone back to work. Thus far, they’ve been unsuccessful.
The WGA, a labor union that represents over 12,000 film, television, and radio writers, negotiates a Minimum Basic Agreement (MBA) every three years with the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers (AMPTP), the trade organization that employs the writers. The 2007 negotiations broke down, and the strike resulted. The key issues at stake for the writers are the DVD residuals, details about reality TV and animated shows, and, above all, their rights regarding new media, such as the Internet.
Most writers involved in the strike consider new media to be the central item of contention. The issues regarding “new media” in this strike address such recent trends as downloading TV programs through outlets such as iTunes, or watching programs directly from websites. Consumers “fast-forwarding” through commercials as they watch programs on Tivo or DVR demand other sources of revenue, of which writers want a fair share.
How Long Will It Last
The last WGA strike, which took place in 1988 over the up-and-coming “home video” market introduced by VHS technology, lasted five months, and cost the industry approximately half a billion dollars. Some analysts have projected the cost of the current strike at twice that amount– $1 billion. More recent and conservative estimates put the price tag at “only” $380 million for Los Angeles County alone. As talks between the two parties continue, estimates as to the length of the strike are mere speculation.
Late Night TV
Strongly affected by the strike are the late-night TV shows, which rely heavily upon their writers to put together a show every day of the week. These shows were the first to start airing reruns, and as the strike entered its second month, much of the production and non-writing staff of these shows find their jobs in jeopardy. Networks such as NBC kept their employees employed through November, helping make the holidays a little easier for these families. However, as the strike continues, many non-writers in the industry find themselves out of work.
Hosts Help Out
Not so for the staff of Late Night with Conan O’Brian. When the network paychecks ran dry, Conan, the named successor for The Tonight Show with Jay Leno after Jay’s anticipated 2009 retirement, reached into his own pockets to supply the salaries of nearly eighty employees. Other late night talk show hosts are maintaining their staff salaries in other ways. Carson Daly showed support for the four writers from the WGA on his show by suspending production for a month. Now, with the jobs of his 75 other staff members on the line, he has gotten back to work to keep them in a job.