When will the writers’ strike end? Update on the big controversy in Hollywood

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Is Hollywood getting ready to get back to work?

Signs point to progress in the 142-day strike involving 11,500 members of the Writers Guild of America, after the CEOs of Disney, Netflix and Warner Bros. intervened. Discovery and NBCUniversal, to avoid a stalemate, held meetings with the union on Wednesday and Thursday. On the agenda: thorny issues related to wages, benefits, and guaranteed work.

But the strike, which shut down work on US films, television dramas, sitcoms and late-night talk shows, was followed by another actors’ strike on July 14, paralyzing production in Hollywood. Screen Actors Guild President Fran Drescher (“The Nanny”) took a hard line and made plans for a six-month strike, acknowledging that many others — from caterers to makeup artists — had been caught in the crossfire and left out of work. “The gravity of a commitment like this is not lost on any of us,” she told USA TODAY in July. “It’s extremely important.” “But we also see that we have no future and no livelihood unless we take this action, unfortunately.”

What happens now, and when will your recreational diet return to normal? We explain.

Are the Hollywood strikes over yet?

No, not quite.

The WGA must first reach a tentative agreement with the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers (AMPTP), which handles labor negotiations on behalf of eight major studios and streaming services. (Some other studios adhere to these agreements.) After that, the full WGA membership must vote on the terms of the settlement before returning to work.

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If they do, writers can resume writing scripts. But the Screen Actors Guild and the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists must negotiate their own settlement, and labor experts expect they will use some of what the WGA approves as a model.

What is at stake? Both say they’re making less money as TV seasons shrink in the streaming era: Where network sitcoms are guaranteed 22 episodes a year, streaming shows often produce as few as eight or 10 episodes. Actors and writers also earn lower royalty payments from syndication or third-party syndication of shows and films as streamers demand exclusive worldwide rights to them.

Will my favorite talk shows return when writers go back to work?

Some will. Evening talk shows — the first to noticeably disappear when the WGA strike began — could return immediately. But Jimmy Kimmel, Stephen Colbert, Jimmy Fallon, and Seth Meyers cannot book actors to promote past or current film or TV projects until the actors’ strike is settled: such promotion is expressly prohibited by SAG, even on social media. But the restriction won’t hurt other shows that don’t rely on those guests, including HBO’s “Last Week Tonight With John Oliver” and “Real Time With Bill Maher.”

Daytime talk shows could also return, although some — including ABC’s “The View” and the syndicated “Live With Kelly and Mark” — are produced under separate contracts and remain on the air. Kelly Clarkson, Jennifer Hudson and Drew Barrymore — who announced a plan to resume work without writers but quickly backed down after strikers’ protests, as did Hudson and CBS’ “The Talk” — could also resume work very quickly. NBC’s “Saturday Night Live” is unlikely to return until the two strikes are settled.

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However, having writers return to work would give studios a head start on scripted films and series, so that production could resume quickly when actors return.

Why do studios suddenly want stability?

The AMPTP and the unions took aggressive stances as the WGA strike continued (the last strike, in 2007-2008, lasted 100 days). Studios have argued in previous contract talks that streaming has upended traditional business models, and that they need more time to understand how that will impact the economics of TV and film production. The surge in the number of projects, which one executive dubbed “Peak TV,” follows streamers’ desire to build subscribers at any cost. But their voracious appetites have subsided amid Wall Street’s demands for profits, and fewer movies and TV shows are on the horizon. Unions say they have been patient, but view 2023 as an inflection point: If they don’t share more of the fruits of their labor now, they never will.

But pressure has been mounting on the studios, many of which have seen their stock prices decline since the WGA strike began. While they save money they would have spent to produce shows and movies, they lose revenue at the box office and advertising money from lower TV ratings. Streaming services risk losing subscribers if they run out of new programming.

What happens if the talks collapse?

If both strikes are not settled in the coming weeks, broadcasters will find it difficult to salvage the traditional television season, which begins next week. Their schedules are filled with reality competitions, game shows, reruns, and foreign imports with a few well-known stars. (NBC has produced and saved episodes for a few new and returning dramas, including reboots of “Quantum Leap” and “Magnum, PI” before the strikes.) But even those aren’t guaranteed: ABC is making plans to postpone next week’s show. Dancing with the Stars, in which celebrity contestants are allowed to participate under strike conditions, is back after at least one contestant, actor Matt Walsh, pulled out in solidarity with the unions.

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Streamers have longer tenures, and movie studios longer still, so you probably haven’t noticed a big change in the number of new and returning shows…yet. But even after a settlement is reached, an empty pipeline means there will be fewer shows next year while producers catch up. Some studios and networks have delayed the premieres of new films (“Dune 2”) and series (“Fargo”) to spread out their slate and fill empty spots on their calendars.

What’s on, what’s off: Where are my TV shows? Frustrated viewers’ guide to a fall season full of strikes and reality

When will ‘Grey’s Anatomy’, ‘NCIS’ and ‘SNL’ return?

If the writers are back at work by next month, and the actors follow suit, production could resume late this year, and new TV episodes could begin airing by February. Sitcoms require a shorter production schedule and can air three to four weeks after they are filmed; Dramas take longer to produce and edit. But shows like “Grey’s” and “NCIS” will likely air 10 to 13 episodes at most, compared to 18 to 22 episodes in a regular season. “SNL” is scripted the same week it airs, so its return will be much quicker, but there’s no chance its regular 21-week season stays the same.

Contributing: Charles Tribbiani

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