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The clock is ticking toward a costly strike that could shut down production on popular Hollywood productions, pushing back the return of many programs now set for the fall.

Last month, members of the Writers Guild of America voted 98% in favor of going on strike if no new deal is reached before their current contract expires at 11:59 pm PDT Monday. With less than a day left before the deadline, the two sides appear far apart, according to CNN.

The talks come at a time both sides are feeling pain. Many of the media and tech companies producing shows that use the writers have seen drops in their stock price, prompting deep cost cutting, including layoffs.

“The companies have used the transition to streaming to cut writer pay … worsening working conditions for series writers at all levels,” said a statement from the union. “On TV staffs, more writers are working at minimum regardless of experience, often for fewer weeks [of pay]….While series budgets have soared over the past decade, median writer-producer pay has fallen.”

“This is not an ordinary negotiating cycle,” said Danielle Sanchez-Witzel, a member of the union’s negotiating team, in a video message to members a month ago.

“We are fighting for writers’ economic survival and stability of our profession.”

The union is negotiating with Alliance of Motion Pictures and Television Producers, which represents Amazon(AMZN), Apple (AAPL), CBS (VIAC), Disney (DIS), NBC Universal, Netflix (NFLX), Paramount Global, Sony (SNE) and CNN’s parent company, Warner Bros. Discovery.

“Our goal continues to be to reach a fair and reasonable agreement,” said a statement from management. “The AMPTP companies have approached these negotiations with the long-term health and stability of the industry as our priority. We are all partners in charting the future of our business together and we are fully committed to reaching a mutually-beneficial deal.”

While many shows have already filmed their final episodes for the current season, viewers could see an immediate impact with late night shows, daytime soap operas and shows such as Saturday Night Live, which could have early ends to their seasons.

And with estimates that a strike could last for months — the last strike by this union, in 2007, went on for 100 days — the start of the new season could be pushed back. 

“If this goes on we’ll see more reality, news and sports,” said Jonathan Handel, an entertainment attorney and author of the book, Hollywood on Strike!: An Industry at War in the Internet Age. 

Handel is one of those who thinks a strike, quite possibly a months-long strike, is likely.

“There’s a lot of unfinished business from 2020 negotiations that were raised then but then put on ice by the pandemic.” 

CNN reports the economics of the industry have change radically in just the last 18 months, he saidas many media and tech stocks have taken a beating on investor concern about profitability of streaming services. While initially the industry battle was to get the most subscribers, attention has now turned to the bottom line. 

The union represents 11,500 writers for television shows, both for networks and streaming services, as well as many motion pictures. Not all of them are currently working, though. But if they do strike, it could have widespread implications for the industry, and for the economies of Southern California and some other locations, such as New York City.

There could be as many as 20,000 workers working on as many as 600 productions who could be out of work if the writers shutdown production, according to an estimate from AMPTP.

Management appears unlikely to give the union the improvements it says its members need to have a living wage. If anything, there are incentives to letting this drag on. 

“The issue the writers are striking over are real, they’re meaningful, but their timing couldn’t be worse,” said Tom Nunan a lecturer at the UCLA School of Theater, Film and Television, as well as a film producer and writer.

CNN reports the writers are arguing their contracts need to factor in the entertainment industry’s shift to streaming. Residual fees — or money paid when a film or series is rerun or aired on broadcast — has helped provide much needed money for writers for years. But those fees are vanishing in the streaming era, which is where a great deal of projects ultimately land these days.

The writers are also seeing smaller writing staffs on shows than have been the case in the past, and fewer episodes of shows produced for streaming platforms than have been produced for broadcast networks in the past.

“Even if the union resolves the issues it has raised, the question of ‘Can this really be a career for me’ will still hang over most writers, post-strike,” said Nunan. “I know very few writers who pay the bills by writing alone.”

Systemic racism exist in Hollywood writer rooms

According to the WGAW Inclusion Report 2020, the numbers are improving at a snail’s pace, especially in television where women (mostly White) and people of color of all genders “held 5% more jobs than in the previous year” and “women gained 4% and people of color 2%” in motion pictures.

Systemic racism, along with the White lens and filter, is also a problem, Hollywood writer Azie Dungey told Essence. “A lot of times they’ll pair you with a White person who is above you, but that’s mostly because of all these systemic issues that have kept us from being in the industry and from moving up. But then you have the problem of then everything going through the filter a lot of times of the White person who’s in the position where, if they don’t get it, then suddenly it’s not going to be on your show. So, then it becomes really some sort of in-between your vision and what White people are able to connect to or what’s within their reference. And especially when it comes to comedy, that can end up being bad.”

Orange Was The Same Whites

While popular shows embraced by Black audiences featuring diverse Black characters make waves, the writers who craft these narratives are often far outside of the culture they write so intensely about.

According to The Los Angeles Times, in a survey of 2,717 jobs in television networks and streaming platforms for the 2019-2020 TV season, the guild found that most senior decision makers on TV shows last year — the showrunners and executive producers — were overwhelmingly White men.

Just 18% were people of color, compared with a U.S. population of 40%. Although writers of color account for 46% of supervisor producers, their share among co-executive producers or executive producers falls to 33% and 19%, respectively.

“I was caught up in that hurdle to advance,” said Studio City-based Angela Harvey, who has been working as a TV writer since 2012. “I repeated staff writer four times.” Even when she worked for a supportive showrunner who wanted to help her catch up, she said the network “didn’t want to set a precedent” by letting her skip levels.

“It is rampant and repeated that it is people of color who don’t get to be the exception to the rule,” said Harvey, whose writing credits include MTV’s fantasy series “Teen Wolf” and firehouse drama “Station 19,” ABC’s spinoff from “Grey’s Anatomy.” 

A survey conducted from October to December 2019 among 333 writers from underrepresented groups in Hollywood found that 55% of writers of color repeated as staff writer at least once, compared with 35% of White male writers, according to a study by the Think Tank for Inclusion and Equity, a consortium of active Hollywood writers. 

Hailing from Charlotte North Carolina, born litterateur Ezekiel J. Walker earned a B.A. in Psychology at Winston Salem State University. Walker later published his first creative nonfiction book and has...

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