Hollywood Writers Strike Averted After 'Tentative' Deal Reached

Hollywood averted a potentially debilitating writers' strike early Tuesday, as the writers' union and a group of studios and networks announced they had tentatively agreed to a new three-year deal after a long day of negotiations and a little over an hour after the expiration of the previous pact.

The two organizations issued a short joint statement at about 1:30 a.m. PT: "The Writers Guilds of America, West and East and the Alliance of Motion
Picture and Television Producers have concluded negotiations and have reached a tentative agreement on terms for a new three-year collective bargaining agreement."

The Writers Guild (WGA), which represents film and TV scribes, and the AMPTP, which negotiates on behalf of studios and networks, have been holding contract talks in recent weeks in an effort to reach a new deal before the expiration of the current deal.

As talks were being held in Los Angeles, both sides operated under a self-imposed media blackout.

A vast majority of WGA members recently gave their union negotiators authorization to call a strike if no deal were reached by the time the contract ends, meaning writers could have been walking picket lines as early as Tuesday.

If that had happened, viewers likely would have first noticed the effects of a strike with that evening's late-night talk shows, where Stephen Colbert, Jimmy Fallon, Jimmy Kimmel & Co. depend on writing staffs for monologues and sketches often tied into the day's news. Saturday Night Live, which has three episodes left this season, could have shut down as early as Saturday. Reruns likely would have filled those slots.

Hovering over current contract talks are memories of the most recent WGA walkout in 2007-08, which is estimated to have cost the California economy $2 billion.

Contractual issues included the level of studio and network contributions to the writers’ health plan and the level of compensation for TV writers in an industry affected dramatically by changes in technology, distribution and viewing habits.

With the number of scripted TV shows hitting record levels recently, there are numerous writing jobs, but writers paid on a per-episode basis can find themselves making less as more programs, influenced by cable networks and streaming platforms such as Netflix, produce fewer episodes of shows. Many programs now make anywhere from six to 13 episodes per season, while the traditional broadcast order had long been 22 per season.

A strike would have had little influence on the conclusion of the broadcast season this month, since finale episodes have been written and filmed, and it wouldn't have an immediate effect on the traditional September rollout of broadcast shows, since writing staffs often don't begin work on fall shows until June.

However, a strike of any length could have thrown a major wrench into advertising sales efforts, since the annual broadcast "upfronts," when networks introduce fall lineups and start negotiations with advertisers, is scheduled for the week of May 15. As viewing habits change, with many people cutting the cable cord, the absence of original broadcast and cable programs resulting from a strike also could have accelerated the flight from traditional TV distribution formats.

If a strike occurred, networks would have relied more on reality shows and scripted reruns to fill their primetime schedules. Much of the broadcast summer time slots already are devoted to reality. Some upcoming scripted shows, such as the much-awaited Twin Peaks (Showtime, May 21) and Game of Thrones (HBO, July 16), are fully produced before premiering, so they would not have been affected by a strike.

However, with shows now filming and premiering throughout the calendar year, a strike could have had a more immediate effect on other series, such as AMC's top-rated The Walking Dead, which begins production this week on Season 8 with plans for a fall premiere.

Viewers would have seen most of the early effects of a strike on television, with its much shorter writing-to-filming-to-viewing timeline. However, a prolonged walkout eventually would have affected feature films, which are fewer in number and have longer-range production timetables.

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