Just hours after the union representing thousands of TV and film writers announced their strike, hundreds of its members occupied an entire apartment block in midtown Manhattan on Tuesday.
Gathered outside the NBCUniversal event on Fifth Avenue, writers chanted “No Contract, No Content” and held up signs with slogans such as “Pencils Down!!!” and “Spoiler alert: We will win.”
“These companies are absolutely destroying our industry,” Tony Kushner, the famous playwright and screenwriter of films like “Lincoln” and “The Fable Mans,” said from the picket line, referring to Hollywood studios.
It was a raucous display of solidarity, which reverberated through the strike ranks outside the main studios in Los Angeles. But the immediate fallout from the strike—which shattered 15 years of labor peace in the entertainment industry and would bring much of the Hollywood production assembly line to a halt—was felt most acutely in the world of late-night television, which immediately went dark.
On Tuesday afternoon, NBC released a statement that the upcoming edition of “The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon” will be a repeat from April. Late Night With Seth Meyers has canceled a show that was supposed to include an interview with actress Rachel Weisz, replacing it with a rerun from February.
New episodes of the nightly show hosted by Stephen Colbert and Jimmy Kimmel have also been suspended. “Saturday Night Live” has canceled a new episode that was scheduled for this weekend with Pete Davidson as host. NBC said it would “put it back on the air until further notice,” raising the possibility that the show may not be able to finish its 48th season by the end of the season.
How long late-night talk shows stay off the air is an open question. During the last strike, in 2007, overnight shows gradually returned after about two months, even as its writers remained on strike lines. (This strike lasted 100 days.)
Mr. Kimmel, the late-night ABC host, was paying his staff out of pocket during that strike, and said years later he had to go back to the air because he was almost exhausted. savings in his life.
David Letterman, who owned the CBS late-night show through his production company Worldwide Pants, made a deal with the Writers Guild of America that allowed his writers to return to the show.
Other hosts—whose programs were owned by media companies—were not so lucky. Hosts like Mr. Kimmel and Conan O’Brien came back without their book, and bravely tried to put together their shows without the usual monologues. Mr. O’Brien had to resort to time-killing tricks, such as draping his wedding ring on his desk, Set a timer for her in the process.
Jay Leno, host of “The Tonight Show,” angered WGA officials by writing his own jokes. “A Jew, a Christian and a Muslim enter the bar,” Mr. Leno said during his opening monologue, which lasted about 10 minutes. “The Jew says to the Muslim, ‘Look, I have no idea what they’re saying, ’cause there’s a book strike.”
The late-night hosts and their top producers have held conference calls in recent weeks, coordinating a response in the event of a strike, according to a person familiar with the plans who spoke on the condition of anonymity due to the sensitivity of the situation.
In contrast to the animosity of the so-called late night wars of the ’90s, the hosts made a concerted effort to show that they were on friendly, if still competitive, terms. When James Corden signed on to “The Late Late Show” last week, he was there registered piece which featured Mr. Colbert, Mr. Fallon, Mr. Kimmel, and Mr. Myers all together.
Mr. Myers, host of the NBC 12:30 a.m. show, referred to the devastation of the latest strike in another segment last week.
“It doesn’t just affect writers,” said Mr. Myers. In web video only. “It affects all of the amazing non-writing staff on these shows.”
He added that he was a proud member of the WGA, and that he felt strongly that what the writers were asking was “not unreasonable”.
“If you don’t see me here next week,” he said, “know that it is something not done easily, and that I shall be sad that I miss you, too.”
The strike will have to extend much longer before viewers start to see the effects on scripted TV shows and movies, because for them the production process could take months or more than a year. But the mere fact that many products were suddenly discontinued was a blow to an industry already shaken in recent years by the pandemic and sweeping technological shifts.
The biggest issue for writers is wages. They have said their compensation has stagnated even as television production has grown rapidly over the past decade. The unions representing writers, the eastern and western chapters of the Writers Guild of America, said that “the companies’ behavior has created an economy of labor within a unionized work force, and their steadfast stance in these negotiations has demonstrated their commitment to further devaluing the writing profession.”
WGA leaders called this moment “existential,” arguing that “the survival of writing as a profession is at stake in this negotiation.”
The Motion Picture and Television Producers Alliance, which bargains on behalf of Hollywood companies, said in a statement shortly before announcing the strike that its offer included “generous increases in writers’ compensation.”
The primary sticking points, according to the studios, include syndication proposals that would require companies to staff television shows with a certain number of writers for a specified period of time “whether they are required or not.”
“We’re very far apart philosophically and pragmatically,” Chris Keyser, chair of the WGA Negotiation Committee, said in an interview early Tuesday morning.
Over the past decade, a period often referred to as Peak TV, the number of scripted television programs broadcast in the United States has risen sharply. But the writers said their salaries were stagnant.
In the age of network television, a writer can get work on a show with more than 20 episodes per season, providing a steady living for an entire year. However, in the broadcast era, episode requests have dropped to 8 or 12, and the average weekly wage for a writer and producer has fallen slightly, the WGA said.
“They make it impossible for younger writers to make a living,” said Mr. Kushner, the playwright and screenwriter. “Our wages have gone down since the last strike.”
The writers also want to fix the remaining payments equation, which has been upended by the flow. Years ago, writers could get residual payments whenever a show was licensed—in syndication or through DVD sales. But global streaming services like Netflix and Amazon have cut their distribution arms and pay flat fees instead.
For now, writers’ creative energy will only be devoted to their picket tags. Outside the NBCUniversal event, one of the writers held up a sign that read, “Pay your writers or we’ll screw up ‘Succession.'”
Brooks Barnes Contribute to the preparation of reports.
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