Could Canada Be the Beneficiary of a Writers Guild Strike?

Stephen Chernin/Getty
A December 4, 2007 picket line by the Writer's Guild of America in New York

A looming strike promises a replay of the 2007 stoppage when there was a Canadian invasion of U.S. TV schedules.

Hollywood may be nervous, but Canadian TV producers see a looming Hollywood writers strike as a possible replay of the 2007 Writers Guild of America's labor action — and they hope it ends just as well for them.

"If there's a prolonged writers strike, there's going to be an even bigger appetite for content written and produced from outside the U.S., including Canada," Ira Levy, executive producer and partner at Breakthrough Entertainment, told The Hollywood Reporter.

The 2007 WGA strike saw U.S. networks take their first-ever serious look at original Canadian scripted shows as studio sets went dark. Nine years later, Canadians hope U.S. networks again turn to them to plug a gap in fresh content should summer 2017 scripted series go off the air.

"If the Canadians can save the networks' backsides by selling them fresh dramas, that's another win for our industry," one local producer, eager not to be seen to salivate as WGA and studio negotiators continue bargaining this month, said privately.

During the 2007 Hollywood writers strike CBS picked up the cop drama Flashpoint and NBC bought The Listener, both shows developed in Canada by local broadcaster CTV, and set and shot in Toronto. Those acquisitions ushered in a Canadian invasion of American primetime that included ABC's Rookie Blue, the CW soap The L.A. Complex, BBC America's Orphan Black and NBC's Saving Hope.

“The 2007 strike opened big doors for Buck and other Canadian content creators, which has brought us even stronger relationships with American broadcasters allowing our immense talent pool to shine," Sean Buckley, CEO of Buck Productions, said.

The WGA has signaled it will strike if its current contract expires May 1 without a renewed deal in place with the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers. CTV spokesman Scott Henderson told THR that Canadian shows in its current pipeline were developed with an eye to international partners and sales.

That includes possible U.S. network pick-ups in the event of a WGA strike. "Working with the best in Canadian writing and producing talent, we currently have shows in development that are big, commercial and broad, and we are always hoping to share those projects as widely as possible," Henderson said.

The hint of storm clouds in Hollywood from another WGA strike has Canadians elsewhere ramping up production of original scripted shows U.S. broadcasters can buy should their stockpiled shows run out down the road.

The Canucks see the advantages of their scripted fare having only grown since the last labor storm in 2007. "The Canadian writers talent is better developed. The shows are that much more accessible to American audiences because Canadian TV producers today make series for the world market," Toronto-based industry consultant John Barrack, a former labor negotiator for Canadian indie producers, explained.

The drive to pitch original Canadian scripted shows on studio lots in Los Angeles goes well beyond using up frequent flyer points. Instead, it reflects a swelling number of Canadian screenwriters, producers and directors with Hollywood addresses and credits now set up to make shows for American audiences as U.S. studios and producers engage in a growing cross-border trade in co-productions.

Canadian series they work on back in Canada under a Writers Guild of Canada contract are considered strike-proof as they are not covered by the WGA contract. "Even if it (a strike) doesn't happen, and there's labor peace, and that's a good thing, there's still a desire by American networks and SVOD services for the best programming from around the world," Breakthrough's Levy said.

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