Late night TV shows go dark as writers strike for better pay

NEW YORK (AP) — Hollywood’s first strike in 15 years began Tuesday as the economic pressures of the broadcast-television era prompt unionists and film writers to picket for better pay outside major studios, a layoff already driving most nightly shows to re-air.

“No contracts, no content!” Members of the Writers Guild of America cheered, holding signs outside the Manhattan building where NBCUniversal was promoting its Peacock streaming service to advertisers.

About 11,500 screen and television writers represented by the union have put down their pens and laptops after failing to reach a new contract with the trade union representing Hollywood studios and production companies.

The syndication is seeking higher minimum wages, more writers per show, shorter exclusive contracts, among other demands — all terms it says have been reduced in the boom in streaming-driven content.

“It’s too much work and not enough pay,” said protester Sean Crespo, a 46-year-old writer whose credits include former TBS show “Full Frontal With Samantha Bee.”

The labor dispute could have a cascading effect on TV and movie productions depending on how long the strike lasts, and it comes as streaming services come under increasing pressure from Wall Street to show profits.

Late night television was the first to feel the fallout, just as it was during the 2007 100-Day Writers’ Strike.

All the late-night shows staffed by writers writing monologues and jokes for their hosts were instantly gone. NBC’s The Tonight Show, Comedy Central’s Daily Show, ABC’s Jimmy Kimmel Live, CBS’s The Late Show, and NBC’s Late Night have all planned reruns during the week.

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NBC’s “Saturday Night Live,” which was scheduled to air a new episode on Saturday, will also go dark and re-broadcast on air instead.

“Everyone, myself included, I hope both sides come to an agreement. But I also think the writers’ demands are not unreasonable,” host Stephen Colbert said on “The Late Show” Monday.

“This nation owes a lot to unions,” Colbert said. “Unions are the reason for the weekends, and therefore why we have TGI Fridays.”

Playwright Tony Kushner (“The Fabelmans”) and “Dopesick” author Danny Strong were among the protesters in New York on Tuesday.

The impact of the strike on scripted series and films will take longer to notice. If the strike continues through the summer, TV schedules could flip in the fall. Meanwhile, those with completed scripts are allowed to continue filming.

During the 2007 strike, the late night hosts returned to the air and improvised their way through the shows. “Tonight” host Jay Leno angered the WGA leadership when he began writing his own monologues.

One late night show that won’t get dark. Fox News’ “Gutfeld!” Fox said Tuesday with Greg Gutfeld will continue to air new episodes.

The Motion Picture and Television Producers Alliance, which represents studios and production companies, said it made an offer with “generous increases in writers’ compensation as well as improvements to tailings flow.”

The trade association said in a statement that it was willing to improve its bid “but was unwilling to do so because of the volume of other proposals still on the table that the union continues to insist on.”

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A large-scale shutdown was expected for several months. Last month, writers voted overwhelmingly to allow the strike, with 98% of the membership in support. Writers say their salaries are not keeping up with inflation, that TV writer’s rooms have shrunk too much and that the old calculations of how tailings are paid should be redrawn..

Broadcasting has increased the number of series and films being produced annually, which means more job opportunities for writers. But the writers say they earn less than they used to while working under more stressful conditions. “Corporate behavior has created a labor-based economy within the unionized workforce,” said the WGA.

The union is seeking more compensation for the writers up front. This is because many of the batches whose writers have historically benefited from the back end—such as syndication and international licensing—were largely phased out with the onset of broadcasting.

The studio’s trade association said Monday that the main sticking points in the deal revolved around so-called small rooms — the union seeks a minimum number of clerks per writer’s room — and the duration of employment contracts.

The Writers’ Union says more flexibility is needed for writers as they are contracted for series, which tend to be shorter-lived than a standard 20-episode broadcast season. They are also seeking more regulation around the use of artificial intelligence, which the book says could give producers a short cut to terminate the work of a WGA writer.

“Understand that our battle is the same battle that will enter your professional sector next: It is the reduction of human effort, skill, and talent in favor of automation and profits,” said writer and director Justine Bateman.

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Many studios and production companies are cutting spending. The Walt Disney Company cut 7,000 jobs. Warner Bros. Discovery is cutting costs to reduce its debt. Netflix has pumped the brakes on spending growth.

With a pullout long anticipated, writers scrambled to get the scripts out and studios sought to prepare their pipelines to continue producing content for at least the short term. But the loss to local economies could be significant. It is estimated that Los Angeles lost $2.1 billion in economic output during the most recent strike.

Warner Bros. CEO David Zaslav said. Discovery, last month: “We assume the worst from a business perspective.” “We have prepared ourselves. We have a lot of content produced.”

A series abroad could fill some of the void. “We have a huge base of shows and movies coming in from around the world,” Netflix co-CEO Ted Sarandos said on the company’s April earnings call.

The WGA strike may only be the beginning. The contracts of both the Directors Guild of America and SAG-AFTRA, the actors’ union, expire in June. Some of the same issues around the streaming business model will factor into these bargaining sessions.

On Tuesday, the Actors Guild encouraged its members to join the ranks of writers in solidarity. ___

Aaron Ranen and David Boder contributed to this report.

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Follow AP Film writer Jake Coyle on Twitter at: http://twitter.com/jakecoyleAP

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