Hundreds of members occupied an entire city block in midtown Manhattan on Tuesday, hours after the union representing thousands of television and film writers announced they would go on strike.
Writers gathered outside an NBCUniversal event on Fifth Avenue chanted “No deal, no content” and “Pencils down!!!” They carried placards with slogans like and “Spoiler alert: We will win.”
“These companies are absolutely destroying our industry,” Tony Kushner, the acclaimed playwright and screenwriter of such films as “Lincoln” and “The Fablemans,” said of Hollywood studios from the picket line.
It was a loud show of solidarity that echoed along the picket lines outside major studios in Los Angeles. But the immediate fallout from the strike — which shattered 15 years of labor peace in the entertainment industry and will shut down much of Hollywood’s production assembly line — 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 “The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon” will return beginning in April. “Late Night with Seth Meyers” canceled a show that was supposed to feature an interview with actress Rachel Weisz, instead rerunning it from February.
New episodes of late-night shows hosted by Stephen Colbert and Jimmy Kimmel have also been suspended. “Saturday Night Live” has canceled a new episode scheduled for this weekend with Pete Davidson as host. NBC said the show would not end the show’s 48th season with a finale, saying “reruns will be made until further notice.”
How long late-night talk shows will be off the air is an open question. During the last strike in 2007, the late shows gradually returned after two months, even as their writers went on strike. (The strike lasted 100 days.)
ABC’s late-night host, Mr. Kimmel, who was paying his staff out of pocket during that strike, said he had to return after years of running out of steam. His life savings.
David Letterman, who has his CBS late-night show through his production company Worldwide Pants, signed a contract with the Writers Guild of America that allowed his writers to return to the show.
Other hosts — whose shows are owned by media houses — have had no such luck. Mr. Hosts like Kimmel and Conan O’Brien returned without their writers, and Camille tried to put together their shows without their standard monologues. Mr. O’Brien had to resort to time-killing tricks like spinning her wedding ring around on her desk. Sets a timer on the function.
Jay Leno, host of “The Tonight Show,” angered WGA officials by writing his own monologue jokes. “A Jew, a Christian and a Muslim walk into a bar,” said Mr. Leno said during his opening monologue, which lasted nearly 10 minutes. “The Jew says to the Muslim, ‘Look, I don’t know what they’re saying, because there’s a writers’ strike.’
The person, who spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the situation, has been involved in team calls in recent weeks coordinating a response in the event of a strike.
Unlike the so-called late-night feud since the 1990s, the hosts made a concerted effort to show they were friendly, if still competitive. When James Corden signed off from “The Late Late Show” last week, there was A taped segment In which Mr. Colbert, Mr. Fallon, Mr. Kimmel and Mr. Meyers were also present.
The host of NBC’s 12:30 a.m. program, Mr. Meyers noted the devastation of the last strike in a division last weekend.
“It doesn’t just affect writers,” said Mr. Meyers said Video only on the web. “It affects all the incredible non-writing staff at these shows.”
He said he was a proud member of the WGA and felt strongly that what writers were asking was “not unreasonable.”
“If you don’t see me here next week, know that it’s not something done lightly, and I’ll be heartbroken to see you,” he said.
A strike would have to last significantly longer before viewers could start seeing the results of scripted TV shows and movies, as their production process could take months or even more than a year. But the sudden discontinuation of so many products is a blow to an industry already rocked by the pandemic and major technological changes in recent years.
The biggest problem for writers is salary. They said that while television production has grown rapidly over the past decade, their compensation has stagnated. The unions representing writers, the Eastern and Western branches of the Writers Guild of America, said, “The companies’ behavior has created a gig economy within a unionized workforce, and their unwavering stance in these negotiations betrays a commitment to further devalue the writing profession.”
WGA leaders called the moment “existential”, arguing that “the very survival of writing as a profession is at stake in these negotiations”.
The Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers, which negotiates on behalf of Hollywood companies, said in a statement shortly before the strike was announced that its offer included “a generous increase in writers’ compensation.”
The primary sticking points include union proposals that would require companies to produce television shows with a certain number of writers for a certain period of time, “whether they want it or not,” according to the studios.
“Philosophically and practically, we’re a long way off,” Chris Keyser, chairman of the WGA negotiating team, said in an interview early Tuesday.
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. Writers say their wages have stagnated.
In the era of network television, a writer could land a job on a show with more than 20 episodes a season, providing a steady living for an entire year. However, in the streaming era, episode orders have dropped to 8 or 12, and the average weekly pay per writer-producer has declined slightly, according to the WGA.
“They make it impossible for young writers to make a living,” says playwright and screenwriter Mr. Kushner said. “Our wages have gone down since the last strike.”
The writers also want to adjust the formula for residual fees raised by streaming. Years ago, writers could receive residual payments whenever a show was licensed — either in syndication or through DVD sales. But global streaming services like Netflix and Amazon are chipping away at those distribution arms and instead paying for static residuals.
For now, the writers’ creative energy will be devoted to their picket signs. Outside the NBCUniversal event, a writer held a sign that read, “Pay your writers or we’ll spoil ‘Succession’.”
Brooks Barnes Contributed report.
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