To Strike, Or Not To Strike -- What's The Deal as Hollywood's Clock Runs Down?

The who, what, when, and why of the Hollywood writer's strike.

by | November 1, 2007 | Comments

To strike, or not to strike? That is the question that Hollywood’s writers will be answering Thursday, and from the looks of Wednesday’s talks breakdown, it looks likely. We’ve got the rundown on what that means for your television and movie watching in 2008 and 2009.

With housing values at an all-time low and fires blazing through Southern California, many Los Angeles residents are thinking about making like Kurt Russell and planning an Escape from L.A.. And to make matters worse, the current Writers Guild of America (WGA) contract expired at midnight Wednesday. Despite months of negotiations between the WGA and the Alliance of Motion Picture & Television Producers (AMPTP), the fear among those in the entertainment biz is that a WGA strike is just around the corner.

Had Wednesday’s negotiations gone well, the possible strike might have heldover past Thursday’s doomsday deadline. But talks dissolved Wednesday evening, leading many to believe that a strike is indeed imminent.

Even those not involved in the industry know that a WGA walkout would be bad news. Television viewers would most definitely be negatively affected by the strike — unless reruns, game shows, and reality slop are your idea of good television. For film fans the strike isn’t quite as bad, although it does mean studios are either pushing their most important projects into ultra-accelerated production or leaving them in limbo for the time being.

Why They’re Negotiating

One of the major points that could make or break the new contract is residuals, for both home video and new media. The WGA is fighting to double the payout rate for homevideo residuals. Writers strongly argue that they have lost out on profit from DVD sales, especially with the rising popularity of television shows on DVD. However, if the residual rate is raised, it would also have to include the Directors Guild of America and the Screen Actors Guild, which makes for a hard selling point. With the rise of the Internet, writers are feeling left out, as studios are free to use streaming video to increase viewership and promote programs.

Another key issue is reality television. Currently, reality TV is not covered by the WGA. This hurts writers who work just as much as those employed by scripted programs, but are not given union pension and health care benefits.

Imagine: A World of Reruns and Reality TV…

If the WGA strikes, there will be plenty of reality television to watch. Many scripted programs will run out of new episodes beginning in December. This also means that shows that don’t premiere until after that, like Lost and 24, won’t be able to air new episodes until the strike is resolved. This is especially bad news considering that the last WGA strike in 1988 lasted for five months.

If the WGA does strike, the first casualties will be late-night programs. Scripted nightly shows like The Daily Show, Conan, and The Colbert Report would be forced into reruns virtually as soon as the strike is announced. Weekly programs like Heroes and Desperate Housewives would also run out of new episodes quickly, leaving new hit shows like Samantha Who? and Gossip Girl to most likely lose their new audience.

Will the WGA dance away their troubles, Newsies style?

And let’s not forget about the writers. All members of the WGA would be required to strike and would be banned from crossing picket lines. Many other employees of shows would eventually be out of jobs — including security guards, set designers, cameramen, and drivers. Other Los Angeles residents would be affected as well. Countless businesses depend on the entertainment industry to keep them afloat. Limo companies, beauty salons, catering companies, dry cleaners, and restaurants would most likely crumble without their income stemming from the entertainment crowd.

Who Wants To See A Poorly-Written Blockbuster?

Some industry veterans worry that striking for even a few months could be detrimental to the quality of programming. And if the strike continued into 2008, the film industry would start to be affected as well. While films set for release next year are mostly well into the production or post-production phase, it’s 2009’s slate that could be drastically affected by the last-minute rushes of script finalization and early production starts that the strike will prompt.

Every major studio has a handful of high profile 2009 projects in the pipeline, turning Hollywood activity into one huge last-minute cram session — good news for fans awaiting films like G.I. Joe, Star Trek XI, Wolverine, Death Race, and Bond 22 (check out Variety‘s assessment of over 50 planned productions). That is, unless scripts completed in a hurry turn out, like many rushed homework assignments, head into production before they’re really ready.

But there is still some light at the end of the tunnel. With the teamsters now ready to honor Writers Guild picket lines, even shows that have scripts ready to go might be in danger. A federal negotiator has been brought in to try and bring the WGA and AMPTP closer to agreement.

What will happen after midnight is a mystery to everyone involved, but it is unlikely that anything will be determined until a major membership meeting on Thursday evening at the Los Angeles Convention Center. No matter what the outcome, you should watch some addictive scripted television tonight. It will help to kill the suspense and also remind you of what you could be missing.