Strike Watch: How Hollywood Labor Strife Would Affect Your Favorite TV Shows

The Late Show with Stephen Colbert
Richard Boeth

The WGA’s master contract with Hollywood’s major studios is set to expire at midnight on Monday. If no new agreement is in place, striking writers could be marching with picket signs the next morning — instead of writing TV shows.

A writers strike would not mean that all television would suddenly be thrust into reruns. But some effects would be immediate, and a lengthy walkout could have a huge impact across the dial.

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Late-night
Late-night, where writers’ rooms are open year-round, would be the first television sector affected. “The Tonight Show,” “The Late Show,” “Jimmy Kimmel Live,” “Conan,” and “The Daily Show” would go dark immediately — though they might not stay dark for long. David Letterman, whose Worldwide Pants production company owned “Late Show” and “Late Late Show” a decade ago — cut a separate deal with the WGA that allowed him and Craig Ferguson to return to the air during the 2007-08 strike with their writing staffs intact. But that’s not an option this time around as CBS has owned its late-night franchises since’s Letterman’s departure in 2015.

Letterman’s return to the airwaves on Jan. 2, 2008, forced competitors at NBC, ABC, and Comedy Central to follow suit, only without writers. Jay Leno, Conan O’Brien, Jimmy Kimmel, and Jon Stewart were forced to ad-lib their way through their shows. Jimmy Fallon, Stephen Colbert, James Corden, and, once again, Kimmel would face the same pressure to go back on the air amid an extended work stoppage — a challenging decision since all four hosts are also WGA members. “Saturday Night Live,” however, would be unlikely to air without writers on board. The NBC sketch comedy series would see its 42nd season come to a halt. “SNL” is scheduled to deliver three more originals this season, starting May 6 with Chris Pine as host.

Daytime
There are roughly half the number of daytime dramas on broadcast now as there were at the start of the 2007-08 strike. Another work stoppage would send the surviving soaps quickly off air, and likely be the death knell for some, if not all of them. Daytime soaps are expensive endeavors in perpetual production. Once those productions are stopped, and replaced with less expensive nonfiction programming, not restarting them becomes an easy choice to make. Daytime syndicated programming ranging from Ellen DeGeneres’ talk show to “Jeopardy” would also be affected, although those shows tend to bank episodes well in advance.

Award Shows
The 2007-08 strike turned the Golden Globes into a press conference with no stars in attendance. It also threatened, but ultimately left unscathed, the Academy Awards. The next major awards show this year is the Tony Awards, scheduled for June 7, set to be hosted by Kevin Spacey and air on CBS. But the newly rechristened MTV Movie and TV Awards, scheduled for May 7, would be the first live awards show to be impacted by a strike. Even if much of the writing for the show is already completed, stars would be unlikely to attend the show, as they would have to cross picket lines to do so.

Summer TV
In drama and comedy, cable and streaming shows whose writers rooms are up and running as well broadcast summer series will be affected by a strike that lasts more than a week or two. Writers rooms would be shut down and production halted shortly after completed scripts run out. Among the series currently in or heading into production that could be impacted are AMC’s “The Walking Dead,” FX’s “American Horror Story” and “You’re the Worst,” and broadcast dramas such as CBS’ new “Salvation.”

Fall TV
A strike that lasts only a few weeks or a month will have little effect on the traditional September to May broadcast season — unlike 2007, when the Nov. 5 start date of the strike shuttered writers rooms on shows that premiered in fall, with some shows never returning. But if a work stoppage extends into July or August, it will start to infringe on the seven to nine weeks of writer prep that broadcast series need before heading into production. That could mean orders for new and returning shows would end up shortened, and fall premiere dates could be pushed into later in the year.

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  1. Writers in the entertainment industry make more than teachers, fire fighters, cops and other who actually put their lives on the line every work day. I couldn’t care less. Let ’em strike.

  2. JoeMcG says:

    Even for the shows that returned after the last strike, many of those writers rooms were never the same, especially for rookie shows. “Samantha Who?” was one of those… great concept that was getting some legs, but then the strike hit and the writing that came back was never the same, effectively killing the show before it’s time. “Pushing Daisies” was another rookie show that had it’s writers room turned upside-down and never came back as strong. Established shows stand a better chance of surviving, but for freshmen shows or those on the bubble, a strike will just push them over the edge because those writers just can’t wait for a gig than might not be there when the dust settles. And Karen below is right… soaps won’t get hit right away as quite a lot of filming is done far ahead of time. But the article is correct, it could kill the whole segment as the cost of restarting these productions will likely be seen as throwing good money after bad, and eliminating one more opportunity for up-and-coming actors.

  3. Karen says:

    soaps quickly off air? they film far in advance

  4. Felicia Hardy says:

    In the event of a strike Netflix wins.

  5. eddie willers says:

    My DVR is filled, my wishlists at Hulu, Netflix and Amazon seem to be never ending.

    I can outlast any strike.

  6. Lisa says:

    Labor strife or strike?

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