Pencils Down! The Writers Guild Is On Strike!

By Ana Perez, 10th Grade

The 2023 Writers Guild of America is one strike once again, as negotiations for a new contract between the union and the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers went south once again. This strike is the largest interruption to the American entertainment industry since the pandemic and the 2007 – 2008 Writers Guild Strike. What does this mean for the entertainment industry? How will your favorite TV show be impacted? Will this mean production companies have AI write movie scripts? And why did these writers have to strike in the first place?

The first question we need to answer is the “why” of the strike. The guild claims that streaming services have cut writers’ average incomes when compared to a decade ago; this means that the guild wants average salaries for writers to increase. The guild also wants artificial intelligence to be used as a tool that can provide writing ideas – not a tool that can replace writers. Until the demands are met, unionized writers will remain on strike. Both sides are currently negotiating with each other, but the AMPTP seems to be quite unresponsive to the union’s demands.

The strike has already dealt a blow to the entertainment industry, as it has already lost more than $10 billion in shares value for brands such as Paramount, Comcast, and ABC Networks, even though we’re only days into the strike; although, companies such as Disney or Warner Bros Discovery have remained stable. Several companies have already halted the production of several TV shows due to the lack of writers, with shows such as Abbott Elementary, Cobra Kai, House of the Dragon, Saturday Night Live, and Rings of the Power being affected by the strike. 

A strike like this one is not unprecedented. The 2007 – 2008 Writers Guild Strike can be used to see what might happen in the future with this strike. In 2007, the rapid expansion of online streaming services transformed the entertainment landscape forever. Yet, because these streaming services were relatively new at the time, writers were not compensated properly, which prompted the strike. Following the strike, many scripted late-night programs had to go off the air as their writers’ room was empty. Although, some hosts such as Ellen DeGeneres and Conan O’Brien kept their shows on the air, either paying salaries out of pocket or changing the format of their shows since they couldn’t afford to lay off hundreds of staff members who’d be affected by the show undergoing a hiatus. 

Yet, the damage to these late-night talk shows was small when compared to the blow that scripted fiction series took. Scripted TV shows had to run shorter seasons as there was not enough time to finish production for more episodes if a key component of the production process was off protesting. Series like Gossip Girl, Supernatural, Breaking Bad, Criminal Minds, Family Guy, The Simpsons, The Office, How I Met Your Mother, Lost, Grey’s Anatomy, among many others, had to run shortened seasons. Whether the quality of these shows was impacted by the shortened seasons is up for debate, although many plot points and plans were scrapped or altered in order to provide a season finale for these shows instead of an episode or midseason finale for several of these shows. For example, the original plan in Breaking Bad was to have deuteragonist Jesse Pinkaman die at the end of the first season. However, the shorter amount of episodes meant that the finale had to be changed and Jesse Pinkman was kept alive. The character went on to live until the series finale, even getting his own spin-off movie, as he became one of the show’s most popular characters. In the demon hunting show Supernatural, the original plan was to have Sam Winchester venture into hell to rescue his brother, Dean Winchester, following the midseason finale. However, due to the strike, the midseason finale became a season finale, and in the following season, a new character had to be introduced to save Dean. This character was Castiel, an angel from heaven who quickly became one of the show’s most popular characters. Those in the industry expect series to run on reduced seasons, but in this day and age, where a TV series is often composed of 8 – 10 episodes, many fear a shortened season will mean the quality of their favorite TV show will take a nosedive.

To avoid production issues, many shows switched to non-union writers, such as Power Rangers, the Young and the Restless, and General Hospital. In this day and age, production companies have an alternative to non-union writers – artificial intelligence. ChatGPT has proven itself to be capable of writing a movie script – the quality of which is up to debate. Yet, it is possible that production companies might consider using artificial intelligence to replace their writers’ room. After all, it’s not as if artificial intelligence can unionize or needs an income. But, scrolling through Twitter demonstrates that many would not be willing to support a series that uses artificial intelligence for scriptwriting, so whether production companies would consider this option is unknown at the moment.

However, networks had to sacrifice some shows due to the financial damage the strike had caused. The 4400, Cashmere Mafia, Men in Trees, Bionic Women, among many others, had to be canceled; although, most of these shows were under threat of cancellation anyway. But with the current state of television, many fear that the “cancellation mayhem” that began in 2022 will worsen. Have you noticed how most Netflix series are canceled after one or two seasons? Even popular series like Inside Job, 1899, Gossip Girl, Juvenile Justice, Anne With an E were not safe from getting axed. Many fear that the production issues caused by the strike will cause networks to cancel promising shows at a faster pace. 

Networks quickly realized that to avoid these production issues, they would have to switch to unscripted shows. This led to the rise of reality TV in the late 2000s and early 2010s, as unscripted TV series became easier to produce. Game shows such as The Price is Right and The Power of 10 received an increased number of episodes. Reality TV shows such as The Amazing Race and Big Brother also received more episodes than normal, with Big Brother, in particular, receiving an extra season to fill the time slot left empty because of the strike. The season, Big Brother 9, was the show’s first winter season and was heavily disliked by fans, while the summer season, Big Brother 10, became a fan favorite. TV shows such as American Idol, Dancing with the Stars, The Bachelor, Paradise Hotel, Celebrity Apprentice, and Keeping Up with the Kardashians were all produced in order to plug the prime-time programming holes. Reality TV has been in a decline together with cable television, so it’s unlikely the industry will shift towards reality television once again considering the abundance of streaming platforms.

The 2023 Writers Guild Strike will be extremely disruptive to the entertainment industry. What trends will rise with this strike, we cannot be sure of at the moment, but what we do know is that this strike can be a wake-up call to several unhealthy industry practices. And hopefully, we can end with better TV shows as a result. Breaking Bad was only as good as it was because of the strike, after all.



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