Behind the Story: A Looming Hollywood Writers' Strike

TV writers are fighting the major Hollywood studios over compensation for shows that are distributed online.

Behind the Story: A Looming Hollywood Writers' Strike


Since the Hollywood writers' strike of 15 years ago, a 100-day stoppage in TV production has cost Los Angeles $2.1 billion.

A screenwriters strike is back on the agenda.

My colleagues John Koblin & Brooks Barnes have reported that the unions representing TV and movie writers approved a walkout by a large majority this week. This gives union leaders the authority to do so as early as May 1.

The current strike is similar to the previous one, which ended early 2008, and was centered around the rise of online movies and shows. It feels as though the industry has reached a new turning point.

Scripted television has become a major investment for studios as streaming entertainment is booming. The number of English language TV series in the United States increased from 288 to 599 between 2012 and 2022. John told me that writers felt their salaries had stagnated.

He said that some veteran writers claimed they were doing more work, or the same amount of money as they did a few short years ago. "Junior authors are having a very hard time breaking into the industry."

There is still time to avoid a strike, just as there was in 2017. Brooks told us that things do not look good.

He said that 'given the near-deadlock this time,' agencies have quietly informed their clients of their expectation of a strike. Some studios have recently changed their message to producers, saying: Shift your entire focus to strike preparations – it's coming.

Here is more from my conversation with John Brooks and Brooks about how the strike could affect Californians in the entertainment industry as well as TV viewers and Angelenos.

Why do union leaders call this a moment of existential significance for writers?

John: In the old days of network television, there could be up to 26 episodes per season. The writers who landed a job in a writing room for a series like 'Friends,' or ER could make a good living working on just one show.

In the streaming age, however, some episodes could only be ordered for eight or ten episodes. This leaves writers scrambling to get another job in order to survive a whole year.

What does a strike mean to people like me who love watching TV?

Brooks: That depends on the type of TV you like. Because they are covered under different union contracts, reality shows and news programs will not be affected. HBO is so well-prepared that it would continue to produce shows as usual for at least several months. Netflix and other streaming services could also keep their shelves stocked by importing shows from abroad.

Late-night talk shows could go dark almost instantly, as they use writers who manipulate the news into monologues and comedic segments. Saturday Night Live could be forced into an early season end. The View, a daytime show that uses union writers, would suffer. Soap operas such as 'The Young and the Restless would also run out of episodes after fewer than ten days. A strike that lasted until late June could have a negative impact on the fall return of shows such as 'Chicago P.D.'and Abbott Elementary.

What about movies?

Brooks: You can rest assured that your summer blockbusters, and sophisticated dramas for the fall are in good hands. Film studios plan about a year in advance. If a strike lasts for a long time, it could be next year that movies face a challenge.

What is a Hollywood walkout like?

Brooks: Making television is an enormous undertaking that relies on many people, including directors, actors and costume designers. It also involves set builders, electrical engineers, hairstylists as well as camera operators, drivers, technicians of lighting, casting directors and publicists. All those people would lose their jobs.

Many ancillary business -- florists, lumberyards, dry cleaners and hotels -- would be affected. Agents would be deprived of commissions.

You stated that the Los Angeles economy was cost $2.1 billion by the 2007 writers strike. What other factors contributed to this loss?

Brooks: Because entertainment workers reduced their personal spending, the strike had a greater impact. The 2007 strike caused some restaurants and clothing shops that catered for Hollywood to go out of business. It wasn't only Los Angeles that suffered: the Milken Institute estimated a loss of $830 million in retail sales statewide.


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