UPDATE with text of letter: The WGA leadership continues to apply pressure on TV networks and studios ahead of resuming contract negotiations next Monday. WGA West executive director David Young has sent a letter to ad buyers warning them they may be wasting their money if there’s a writers’ strike come May 2.
“With the cable networks’ upfronts underway and the broadcast networks’ upfronts beginning in May, I am writing to inform you of a potential labor dispute that could have a significant impact on primetime programming for the 2017-2018 television season,” Young wrote in the letter obtained by Deadline (read it below in full).
While the effect of a possible strike on primetime scripted series for the next broadcast season — which will be presented at the May upfronts and sold to advertisers shortly thereafter — is unclear as the strike would fall during their scheduled hiatuses, there would be an immediate impact on the networks’ late-night shows in the final weeks of the current season. During the 2007-2008 writers strike, all late-night shows went dark at the beginning of the strike, eventually returning on the air seven weeks into the work stoppage without writers — with the exception of CBS’ Late Show and Late Late Show, whose owner, David Letterman’s company, reached an interim agreement with the WGA.
In the event of a strike, Young wrote in his letter, “late night shows, including Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon, The Daily Show, Jimmy Kimmel Live, Saturday Night Live, Full Frontal With Samantha Bee, The Late Show With Stephen Colbert and others will go off the air,” adding that “some scripted series scheduled to air in the summer of 2017 may be affected as writing and producing for the season is ongoing.” Summer broadcast series that will still be in production in May include CBS’ Salavation and Zoo and ABC’s Somewhere Between.
As for the fall season, Young stressed that “any delay in the start of work has the potential to postpone fall season premieres and reduce the amount of new programming available to advertisers and audiences.” He noted that the 100-day 2007-08 strike, which took place when some 150 broadcast scripted series were in production, “resulted in the loss of almost 25% of primetime scripted programming for the 2007-2008 broadcast season”
The producers’ rep AMPTP responded to the letter today, parroting its statement from Monday. “Our objective continues to be to reach an agreement with the WGA at the bargaining table. We hope the Guild will engage with us on the issues in that forum when negotiations resume on Monday.”
The first round of talks started March 13 and broke off March 24, with each side blaming the other for walking away from the bargaining table. Leaders of the WGA West and WGA East are urging their members to give them the authority to call a strike if the second round of talks fails to produce a fair contract.
The main issues are more money for film and TV writers and a bailout of the WGA Health Plan, which faces a projected $145 million in deficits over the next four years.
Here is the full letter:
With the cable networks’ Upfronts underway and the broadcast networks’ Upfronts beginning in May, I am writing to inform you of a potential labor dispute that could have a significant impact on primetime programming for the 2017-2018 television season. As a stakeholder that may be negatively affected by this dispute, this information may be relevant to your media buying plans.
Writers Guild of America, West (WGAW) and its affiliate, Writers Guild of America, East (collectively, WGA) represent 12,000 writers of feature films, television series and online video programming. The collective bargaining agreement that covers all writing in the entertainment industry expires on midnight of May 1, 2017. To date, negotiators from the WGA and the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers (AMPTP), the organization that represents the entertainment industry’s employers, have been unable to reach agreement on a new contract.
WGA members are the driving force behind film and television; they are responsible for creating, writing and producing more than 4,000 episodes of scripted programming each year for network television, basic cable and pay TV networks, and online services like Netflix, Amazon and Hulu. Our members also write all the daily and weekly late night television shows and a host of daytime programming.
While the television business has driven industry prosperity – with the six largest media companies (CBS, Comcast-NBC, Disney, Fox, Time Warner and Viacom) reporting almost $51 billion in operating profits and almost $28 billion in net income in 2016 – writers’ income has sharply declined. The average pay of writer-producers working in television declined 23% over the last two years alone. The decline is driven by the growth of short order series with 13 or fewer episodes. Writers, who are primarily paid by the number of episodes produced, often work just as many weeks on a short order series as they did on a traditional 22-episode series, but are paid for fewer episodes. Writer-producers are the only employees in television production who do not receive additional pay for additional time worked. It is simply a bad business practice to have writers, who are the acknowledged creative heart and who are ultimately responsible for the most important assets in the business, be left behind as the business succeeds beyond all expectations. This is a recipe for catastrophe.
In addition, script payments and residual compensation in areas of original programming growth such as basic cable and subscription video on demand (SVOD) services like Netflix and Amazon remain lower than the standards set in broadcast television. Adopted at the inception of these markets, these lower rates have failed to keep pace with the meteoric rise of basic cable profitability and Netflix’s growth around the globe.
To address the imbalance between industry prosperity and the economic position of writers, the WGA has put forth reasonable demands that amount to a fraction of one percent of company profits. In response, the AMPTP has offered almost nothing of economic value to writers. As a result, the WGA has begun the process of conducting a strike authorization vote of our membership, which would allow the union to call a strike any time after the contract expires.
In the event that we are unable to negotiate a new contract with the AMPTP, a work stoppage will begin May 2nd. Should this occur, writing for television, feature films and digital series will cease. Immediately, late night shows including Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon, The Daily Show, Jimmy Kimmel Live, Saturday Night Live, Full Frontal with Samantha Bee, The Late Show with Stephen Colbert and others will go off the air. Some scripted series scheduled to air in the summer of 2017 may be affected as writing and producing for the season is ongoing.
Critically, a work stoppage in May could significantly affect the fall television season. Writers on fall broadcast series typically begin work in May and June in preparation for fall season launches. This lead time is needed to develop storylines and write episodes prior to the start of production. Any delay in the start of work has the potential to postpone fall season premieres and reduce the amount of new programming available to advertisers and audiences.
The last writers’ strike began in November 2007 and lasted for 100 days. It resulted in the loss of almost 25% of primetime scripted programming for the 2007-2008 broadcast season. During the strike, the broadcast networks quickly ran out of new episodes to air and were forced to air reruns and increased amounts of reality programming. The loss of original programming had a significant impact on ratings. During the three months most affected by the strike, the major broadcast networks’ ratings declined, on average, by double digits compared to the same period in 2007. The strike-impacted ratings forced NBC to return money to advertisers rather than
offer make-goods. Should a strike occur in 2017, we would expect that the delay or loss of original primetime programming will similarly affect ratings.
The WGA’s contract proposals are eminently affordable in the context of industry profits. We estimate that our current proposals would cost a total of $178 million over the entire industry. The combined cost to the six largest firms is $117 million. This would allow writers to share in small portion of the success that they have helped create.
If you would like any further information, please contact REDACTED.
David J. Young