Comedy-variety writers on subscriber-based streaming services are getting the short end of the shtick, according to the WGA, which says that “companies are free to pay writers as little as they can get away with, resulting in some of them not even earning enough over a season to qualify for WGA health insurance. In addition, residuals on a hit show barely amount to a few hundred dollars.”
In a message Wednesday to members, the guild’s negotiating committee said that “Comedy-variety is perhaps the oldest television genre and it’s still going strong with more new shows being produced now than in any time in recent memory. And for the past few years this genre has been quite popular on subscriber streaming platforms.” And yet, despite this growth, “terms for comedy-variety programs produced for subscriber streaming platforms are entirely negotiable, which means there are no WGA minimums.”
Series like Patriot Act With Hasan Minaj, I Think You Should Leave with Tim Robinson and The Iliza Shlesinger Sketch Show, the guild said, “Provide streaming platforms like Netflix with different types of entertaining content, which in turns helps those companies attract new subscribers.”
The guild, which is currently in negotiations with management’s AMPTP for a new film and TV contract, said that “This is not just a problem for comedy-variety series made for subscriber streaming platforms. It could also impact the future of legacy broadcast comedy-variety series (e.g., The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon, The Late Show with Stephen Colbert, Jimmy Kimmel Live!) since the studios and networks are shifting programs over to a subscriber streaming delivery model where they can take advantage of these substandard provisions.
“We have been successful in previous negotiations in establishing minimum terms for episodic series and feature films made for SVOD. It is time for comedy-variety shows to be treated the same way.”
The guild says it also wants to address “discounted rates” for comedy-variety writers, in which “the companies can reduce comedy-variety weekly rates (minimum rates that are already much lower than are required on episodic series) by as much as 20% below minimum in exchange for employing writers under ‘cycle’ contracts. This greatly diminishes both initial compensation and residuals that writers receive for TV series.”
Comedy-variety writing jobs, the guild said, “make up a consistent and important source of employment for WGA members. We therefore need to ensure these jobs continue to pay the minimum rates and residuals that Guild members have worked many years to achieve.”
This is the fifth communique the negotiating committee has sent to members about its contract proposals since the negotiations began on May 18. The current contract, which had been set to expire on May 1, has been extended to June 30 because of the pandemic.
Here are links to Deadline’s stories on the other four: