It’s Official: The Strike is On

Ric Francis/Associated Press
Ric Francis/Associated Press

Picket lines formed bright and early outside the Today show studio this morning in New York, signaling the start of the long-dreaded WGA strike. Over on the West Coast, writers are planning to picket 14 studio locations starting at 9 a.m. today. This, after last-minute negotiations collapsed last night at the end of 10+ hours of talks.

So what does all this mean for us, the television viewer? The most immediate effects will be seen on nighttime comedy programming. Writing-intensive shows like The Daily Show with Jon Stewart and Late Show with David Letterman are expected to shut down immediately, to be replaced by reruns or other programming.

Some daytime talk shows like The Ellen Degeneres Show could be affected as well. Many daytime soaps, however, say they have enough scripts stockpiled to take them into the new year.

Hit next will be scripted prime-time programming. Most multi-camera shows like Two and a Half Men and Back to You are expected to shut down almost immediately, since they generally require extensive rewrites throughout the production week. But single camera shows require less last-minute writing and may continue production as long as their stockpiled scripts hold out—possibly into next year.

Possibly. See, the majority of TV shows are actually run by writers, like ER‘s John Wells, Scrubs‘ Bill Lawrence and Lost‘s Carlton Cuse. And then there are the actor-writers, like Mindy Kaling, Paul Lieberstein and B.J. Novak on The Office. These WGA members are all finding themselves caught in the middle, as the studios have made it clear that they’re expecting them to fulfill their contracts while the WGA is calling for them to stand down. The truth is no one knows exactly what’s going to happen today or how these writer-hyphenates are going to draw the line.

But wait—what about the Teamsters? If they decide not to cross picket lines pretty much everything shuts down right away. Local 399, which represents truck drivers, casting directors and location managers, told its members that it has a legal obligation to honor its contracts with producers. But individual union members are protected by federal law from employer retribution if they decide to honor picket lines.

However it shakes out, unless both sides come to a quick resolution, expect a lot of reruns in your future and a lot more reality programming. Come Christmas we may find ourselves huddled around our televisions, watching Sunset Tan and eating our own hair.

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5 thoughts on “It’s Official: The Strike is On

  1. I feel for the showrunners, it’s a tough place to be in. Crossing the picket lines and finishing up episodes already in progress gives the studios more content, and lengthens the strike. But, besides the impetus to protect their shows, there’s also got to be conflict from some of them that, if they keep going, it’s that many more weeks that the production office is up and running, and that many more weeks that the p.a. who grosses $400 a week gets a paycheck.

  2. And I think there is some gray area–Berlanti and Kring make the legitimate points that editing and “managing” episodes that are greenlit in various stages of production could arguably fall outside of the purview of writing. They aren’t creating new content, they are completing stuff that is technically “written.” I think the writers are really gutsy for taking this on first. Clearly SAG and the DGA are watching carefully, hoping that the residuals issues and new meda payments can be dealt with to everyone’s benefit.

  3. I’ll be veddy, veddy curious to see what the DGA’s careful watching turns into, as there is some feeling in some quarters that their choices last time these kinds of things came up undercut the SAG position.

    I’ve also heard rumors–and I know nothing, so giant grain of salt–that picket lines will, at least initially, not operate in the early AM hours (we’re talking 5AM here) so that the guild can keep the sabre-rattling position of the Teamsters supporting them without actually putting any Teamsters in the position of having to confront a picket line. Interesting.

  4. Editing is a bit of a stickey wicket. If they are editing for time, fine. But if they are editing because the episode isn’t working, well… I’ve heard more than one showrunner talk about how you can “rewrite” and episode in the editing room, and that I think is a problem area.

    Right now the pickets are from 9-1 and 1-5. I hadn’t heard anything about it being to keep the Teamsters from having to choose about crossing a picket line, but I wouldn’t be surprised.

  5. For purely anecdotal information, the “Scribe Vibe” ‘s writer’s strike blog through Variety is an interesting read.

    Also, B to follow up on your point, the more episodes are in the can, the longer the strike could last. Obviously the producers are faced with the inevitable questions about whether editing a show just enables the studios to drag their feet. They just have to trust that their director/producer or actor/producer compatriots will do a decent job (see “Brothers & Sisters” with Ken Olin and Peter Horton as an example)

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