Studios and writers are bracing themselves for a strike ahead of negotiations
Last month, the long-running 1980s NBC show “Night Court” got a new lease of life. The reboot was critically well received and a second season was ordered. But when exactly the scriptwriters and crew will start filming again is anyone’s guess. NBC executives are in talks with Warner Bros. and other production partners about the potential impact of a strike on the show and the costs they could incur, said a person familiar with the show who was not authorized to comment.
The discussions are just the latest example of studios and networks preparing for a possible strike by members of the Writers Guild of America, which would be the first since the 100-day strike that rocked Hollywood in 2007-08.
The contract for WGA members does not expire until May 1st. However, the negotiations, due to start on March 20, are expected to be tense as both sides remain sharply divided over how authors will be compensated in the streaming age. Adding to the labor tensions, unions representing actors and directors also expect contentious negotiations with the studios when their contracts expire on June 30.
Of course, it’s still too early to say what will happen and a strike is not inevitable.
Still, studios, broadcasters and producers are preparing for the worst through a variety of contingency plans, including accelerating production schedules, stockpiling scripts and ramping up international productions.
In a sign of concern, some agents are reporting a spate of activity from their author clients, many of whom are keen to ensure they can sell all projects ahead of a possible strike.
“Everyone is talking about it and many are nervous. They want to make the most effective moves with projects,” said Allan Haldeman, partner and co-head of television literature at United Talent Agency. “Timing is always a component of strategy and the potential of a strike has added a new wrinkle to that process.”
John August, a writer for the WGA negotiating committee, told listeners to his Scriptnotes podcast this month that studios and networks are already preparing for what could happen — though the WGA has yet to finalize proposals for the talks.
“You see them opening the writers’ rooms early; They’re trying to get the scripts in by May 1,” August said.
Some entertainment advocates agree, saying studios are looking at scripts that were due after May 1 and trying to see if they can adjust those deadlines.
“The producers are expanding those schedules with the writers, making sure to get as much done as possible,” said Amy Stein Simonds, a partner in Pryor Cashman’s Media and Entertainment Group.
A consideration for the studios: Even if only the writers went on strike, production would be halted across the board. Studios usually need writers for any rewrites during production.
As another contingency measure, studios are also shuffling schedules and moving production dates to complete projects before a possible work stoppage.
Most of the changes will affect television productions as opposed to feature films, which have a much longer lead time.
Sony Pictures Television, which produces shows like ABC’s The Good Doctor, CBS’s Swat and Fox’s Fantasy Island, is trying to get footage before May, said a person with knowledge of its plans. Fox Entertainment, producer of The Masked Singer and other reality and unscripted shows, is also trying to push productions to wrap up before a strike, a source not authorized to speak publicly said.
Meanwhile, producers are also turning to entertainment industry lawyers for advice on how to prepare for a possible work stoppage and to release them from any liability they may incur as a result of production disruptions.
“We’re just really making sure that … if things have to come to a halt, there’s adequate protection for producers,” said entertainment attorney Elsa Ramo, who represents independent studios and producers.
The Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers declined to comment on the strike preparations but said this week the group was “fully committed to reaching a fair and reasonable settlement that will bring strength and stability to the industry”.
Some studios began planning a possible writers’ strike late last year, and are taking it into account when making decisions about when shows to pick up.
Some ordered second seasons of shows earlier than usual so they could start production sooner, an agent said.
For example, in December, NBC picked up a second season of the popular sci-fi reboot Quantum Leap, in part to allow the second season to begin well ahead of May 1, a person close to the production said was not authorized to sign up to express.
Such planning is critical for studios, broadcasters and producers as production delays or cancellations can be very costly.
“If there is a strike, it could be very detrimental,” said Stein Simonds, a lawyer representing producers. “You have acting plans that you can rely on, the same goes for directors. There’s all these things that are worked out months and months in advance. In order to manage that, everything gets delayed and messed up and you have to start from scratch.”
Despite fears of strikes, script stocks are not as plentiful as in previous negotiation cycles as studios had already accelerated production after the pandemic shut down, industry experts said.
“It seems like they are relying on what has been done in the past for the last few years to ensure they are covered if and when a strike occurs,” Stein Simonds said.
Preparation by studios in negotiation years is common. Studios and networks often create contingency plans, such as: B. stocking up scripts or shifting schedules ahead of a possible strike.
In previous strikes, including 1988, the networks were forced to postpone their fall plans. In 2007, the longest writers’ strike, reaching 100 days, shut down several network productions.
As in years past, some producers are looking to reality or unscripted shows as potential substitutes for scripted fare that would be interrupted by a work stoppage. Reality TV programs – including Donald Trump’s The Celebrity Apprentice – got a big boost after the 2007 strike.
Some want to create international content that is outside the jurisdiction of the WGA.
“There is a growing interest in local language productions,” said Dan Stone, entertainment industry attorney for Greenburg Glusker. “Domestic producers are collaborating with foreign talent to create projects that will be filmed abroad.”
Times contributors Wendy Lee and Ryan Faughnder contributed to this report.
In the entertainment business
The Wide Shot brings you news, analysis and insights on everything from streaming wars to production – and what it all means for the future.
You may occasionally receive promotional content from the Los Angeles Times.
https://www.latimes.com/entertainment-arts/business/story/2023-02-23/ahead-of-a-possible-strike-studios-and-writers-get-ready-in-case-of-a-summer-shutdown Studios and writers are bracing themselves for a strike ahead of negotiations