Writers Guild Promises Strike on May 2 If No Deal Is Reached

WGA Strike Sign - Getty - H 2017
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In a letter to media buyers, the guild says it is seeking a $178 million per year deal and warns it will strike as soon as the current contract expires if no agreement is reached.

The Writers Guild of America for the first time has explicitly said it will indeed strike this year if its current contract expires May 1 without a renewed deal in place with the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers. The statement appears likely to escalate tensions over the possibility of a walkout.

"In the event that we are unable to negotiate a new contract with the AMPTP, a work stoppage will begin May 2nd," said the guild in a letter sent Tuesday to media buyers. "Should this occur, writing for television, feature films and digital series will cease."

Five days of negotiations are scheduled to begin Monday. WGA member meetings and an online strike authorization vote are set for April 18-24, which would then leave just a few days until contract expiration. (The Guild leadership doesn’t have the power to call a strike unless it prevails in the strike authorization balloting, but that result is virtually assured.)

The letter also for the first time publicly places a dollar figure on the WGA’s contract demands. "We estimate that our current proposals would cost a total of $178 million over the entire industry," the letter states. "The combined cost to the six largest firms is $117 million."

It then breaks down the estimate as follows: CBS $16.0 million; Disney $21.20 million; Fox $25.45 million; NBC $17.90 million; Sony $12.80 million; Time Warner $27.40 million; Viacom $9.79 million; other producers $47.74 million; and total $178.28 million. The breakdown says, and the guild confirmed, that these are annual costs.

The AMPTP declined to comment.

The letter, which was sent to an unknown number of media buyers and which the Guild provided to The Hollywood Reporter on Wednesday, comes as the mid-May network advertising upfront market draws near and while the cable Upfronts, which began March 2, continue.

The network and cable Upfronts — gala events in New York at which the channels tout their new shows and pre-sell the upcoming season’s advertising inventory — bring in about $8 billion to $9 billion in advertising commitments per year for the five broadcast networks combined and a similar amount for the cable networks in aggregate.

The Guild’s letter, signed by executive director David Young, warns media buyers that a strike "could have a significant impact on primetime programming for the 2017-2018 television season."

The letter asserts that late-night shows such as The Tonight Show and Saturday Night Live would "immediately … go off the air." This seems overstated: Those shows did not go dark during the 2007-08 strike, but their hosts did have to improvise their own monologues in the absence of the writers.

The letter adds that some summer series could be affected. It also notes that the fall broadcast season could be impaired as well. History bears that out, at least if the strike lasts into the summer: The 1988 WGA strike didn’t settle until early August, and the fall season was delayed about four to six weeks as a result.

Pointing to the 2007-08 strike, the Guild’s letter emphasized that "[t]he loss of original programming had a significant impact on ratings," citing double-digit declines and the fact that one network, NBC, was forced as a result "to return money to advertisers rather than offer make-goods," or substitute advertising opportunities.

The issues dividing the parties this year include relief for middle-class writers, shoring up the WGA health plan, solidifying the pension plan’s foundation and other matters.

April 5, 4:44 p.m.: Updated to clarify that WGA-specified costs are annual.