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Here's what happens if Hollywood writers go on strike

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

The last time writers in Hollywood brought the film and TV industry to a halt was 15 years ago, and it sounded like this.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED GROUP: (Chanting) On strike - shut it down. Hollywood's a union town. On strike - shut it down. Hollywood's a union town.

KELLY: That's a picket line from the 100-day walkout by the Writers Guild of America that brought significant disruptions to film and TV shows. The WGA's current contract with the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers ends overnight tonight, bringing fears in Hollywood of another major strike. Here to discuss is NPR TV critic and media analyst Eric Deggans. Hey there.

ERIC DEGGANS, BYLINE: Hi.

KELLY: Hi. So give us a sense of what is at stake. Why is this industry on the verge of a strike right now?

DEGGANS: Well, the Writers Guild of America represents writers for TV shows, films, all kinds of products across network TV, cable, film studios and streaming services. Now, the writers who are members of the union have told me that they feel like their compensation hasn't kept up with the times, particularly regarding streaming shows, and that studios have taken advantage of loopholes in their contracts to keep their pay low. Now, on the other side, the studios note that many major streaming services don't make a profit. Media companies are already cutting back and laying off workers, in fear of a recession. And the explosion of new content online has created more potential new jobs for WGA members.

KELLY: When you say that union members say they don't feel their pay has kept up with the times, get specific. What kind of challenges do they say they face?

DEGGANS: Sure. Well, I recently talked to Bill Wolkoff, who's captain at the WGA, and he's a producer and writer on the Paramount+ series "Star Trek: Strange New Worlds." And he said years ago, TV networks would pay writers by each episode in a series, and they would make a substantial number, say, up to 26 episodes in a season. But in the streaming world, series can be as little as 8 or 10 episodes a season. TV studios might have all the scripts written in advance and not allow writers to work on the set as producers help to film them. So writers work for a shorter amount of time, and it's tougher for them to learn the production skills that would help them move up the ladder. Now, Wolkoff is hopeful that they're going to reach an agreement, but I've heard a lot of pessimism in Hollywood over the inevitability of at least a short strike because studios could use the work stoppage as an excuse to cancel some projects and because the WGA is determined to get a better deal.

KELLY: How might all this affect what we viewers are going to get to see if a strike does, in fact, kick in after the contract expires tomorrow?

DEGGANS: Sure. Well, right away, topical late night shows like "Jimmy Kimmel Live!," "Saturday Night Live," "The Daily Show" - they would likely stop making new episodes. Soap operas would also likely stop. But streaming services in particular work really far in advance. So viewers might not see a change there until the end of the year if the strike went that long. There's also some question about how easy it would be for studios to produce already written scripts, as some unions and their members, like the Teamsters, have said they might not cross WGA picket lines. But if a strike dragged on, you can expect to see more unscripted or reality TV shows and more new shows from Canada and other overseas markets.

KELLY: And what about impact on the industry more broadly if a strike drags on?

DEGGANS: Well, you know, on TV, some promising shows could be canceled simply because they couldn't be finished. Or areas of the business that are struggling to attract viewers like late night TV would be challenged because they're airing reruns. Or there's fear that the strides made in diversity, where women and people of color have gotten great production deals - that could fall back. But what worries me most is that both sides face the same problem they had in 2007 - that technology is changing so fast, it's hard for them to figure out a solution. It's like trying to change the tire on a car while it's running.

KELLY: All right. With that analogy in mind, we'll leave it there. NPR TV critic Eric Deggans, thank you.

DEGGANS: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

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Eric Deggans
Eric Deggans is NPR's first full-time TV critic.