So as of right now, the Writers Guild of America plans going on strike either by Sunday or Monday depending on which article you read. What does this mean? Well it means that any writer who is a card carrying member of the union will no longer be able to head into their jobs and write for the show that employs them. Which TV shows are affected? Almost all. No, not really. News programs, reality shows as well as maybe a handful of fictional shows can escape the mess this is going to make for the rest of the industry.
What’s their beef? Well, a fairly good one actually. Writers have been pretty gypped on residuals and royalties coming from DVD sales and online streaming sales, such as iTunes and Amazon Unbox. They want their piece of the pie. According to networks, they insist they provide the programs not for income but for promotional purposes only and the costs assigned only cover the cost of manufacturing and distributing. (Uh-huh). Whether that is true or not, networks are really in fairly bad shape as the world has learned to not watch quite as much TV as they used to as well as money sunk into poor TV shows has hurt their cash flow, making them near bankrupt in some cases (see NBC).
So who will suffer first? Late night talk shows for one. They rely on current information before writing the monologues or sketches. Maybe they can cut the monologues and simply stretch out the Q&A session with the guests longer but that’s just a suggestion without knowing anything of the industry. I’d like to think the host is the one responsible for his questions but who knows in this world we live in.
Next, the daytime industry (soaps I mean) will be taking a huge hit they cannot afford. All of daytime is suffering and the three bottom rated soaps: Days of Our Lives, All My Children and Guiding Light already face a daily fear of cancellation. The last time the writers went on strike was back in 1988 and then the soap industry was strong enough to survive by hiring scabs to come and continue writing episodes. It actually didn’t hurt the quality of the shows, at least in my opinion, such as Steve and Kayla’s yacht wedding.
However, that era has been long gone now. Young & the Restless is the only soap with high enough ratings where it may be able to convince the producers/network to hire in anyone across the picket line but I bet even so, it’s a risky move, especially nowadays. Scabs may not know the genre, character history or even care about current storylines. I’m sure soaps have stockpiled extra scripts up to a point but probably by the first of the year, you will find them going on hiatus. (My opinion, if NBC is smart and sees ABC and CBS pulling their soap lineup, they could most definitely green light new episodes to be written, to keep their show on the air and hopefully steal viewers from other soaps who are missing daytime.)
So what’s next? Primetime shows. Sitcoms probably are fairly close to shooting episodes right after an episode is written. Writers must stay around during filming of the sitcom because sometimes jokes fall flat or the show runs long/short, so scenes need to be edited accordingly. So with sitcoms you are going to have what’s been already shot and that’s probably it.
Primetime dramas are up next such as CSI, Heroes, Law and Order. These shows should be in good shape for possibly a few months. I use the term should simply because I understand the teamsters (truckers) have agreed to support the WGA in this strike hence all prop, set, and equipment needing to be shipped to location shoots could not go, possibly shutting down production of the episode anyway.
After Days (a soap which has improved so much in the last year and it’s writing is finally on the right path again), I specifically worry about Lost. This is a show which has taken a HUGE risk in putting off their fourth season premier by delaying it to late January. They believe with the promise of showing nothing but new episodes through May fans will be happy and ratings will be back to the way they were in season one. The writer’s strike, though, can doom this risky idea before it even starts. I’m sure many episodes have been filmed to date, but the scripts aren’t all done as well as with the teamsters joining in, a TV show that is filmed primarily 90% of it’s scenes on location can be in big trouble.
Maybe at the 11th hour (more like 11:59th minute) a strike will be prevented and everyone goes home happy. Maybe the strike will only last for a few weeks. Maybe networks will shrug their shoulders and decide they will feature reality TV and news now 100% of the time. If it’s the latter, I dread to see what reality TV shows will pop up they haven’t already thought of before.