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.
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.