hollywood sign

Hollywood’s writers are on strike. Shows have stopped, scripts are going unwritten, and there is no sign of an end. Let’s discuss the reasons behind the strike and the potential consequences on today’s episode!

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  • Strike (n) – a period of time when workers refuse to work because of an argument with an employer about working conditions, pay levels, or job losses.
    • A wave of strikes swept the country.
  • Studio (n) – a building or place where films are made, or a company that makes them.
    • He sold a TV show to a well-know studio.
  • To walk out (phrasal v) – to stop working or leave your job because of a disagreement with your employer.
    • Workers are threatening to walk out.
  • Script (n) – the words of a film, play, broadcast, or speech.
    • Two writers collaborated on the script for the movie.
  • Union (n) – an organization that represents the people who work in a particular industry, protects their rights, and discusses their pay and working conditions with employers.
    • The government’s proposals have been strongly criticized by the trade unions.
  • Compensation (n) – the combination of money and other benefits (= rewards) that an employee receives for doing their job.
    • Annual compensation for our executives includes salary and bonus under our incentive plan.
  • Residual (n) – a payment made to an actor, singer, writer, etc. for repeated uses of their work.
    • He makes $60 million a year from “Seinfeld” residuals alone.
  • Season (n) – one of several series of television programmes with the same title and the same characters.
    • It is the second season of the TV show.

The internet is usually full of clips from the most popular American late night TV shows: The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon, The Late Show With Stephen Colbert, Jimmy Kimmel Live!, Last Week Tonight With John Oliver, and more. But at the moment there are no clips online from these shows… because they are no longer on TV.

The famous Saturday Night Live of NBC… is no longer “live” – they are showing old episodes instead. Incredibly popular shows including Stranger Things on Netflix, HBO’s Hacks, Cobra Kai, The Last of Us, and The Handmaid’s Tale have stopped production until further notice.

And even if you haven’t noticed any effect yet, over the next weeks, months, and maybe even year you could see some more changes in American TV and movies.

Why? What is happening?

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What is Happening in Hollywood?

Hollywood’s writers are striking. The people who make the scripts for TV shows, write the jokes for late night comedians, and think up the stories for movies, are no longer working.

The Writers Guild of America, a trade union made up of over 11,000 Hollywood writers, went on strike at the beginning of May after negotiations failed with major movie and television studios. Discussions had been held for over a month, but without the signing of a new contract between the union and the studios, no writers are working.

Out of the 11,000 union members, 97.85% voted in favour of strike action. While this is not the first time Hollywood writers have walked out of their jobs, this was the highest percentage of votes in favour in history.


What is a Writer’s Strike?

I’ve said the term “writer’s strike” quite a lot over the past few minutes. But what does it actually mean?

When workers go on “strike” it means they are refusing to work as a form of protest. Usually, the aim of a workers’ strike is to gain some form of concession from their employer: higher wages, better working conditions, sick pay, or some other kind of benefit.

Strikes happen all over the world, and in many different industries. Over the past few months, the UK (my country) has had regular strikes by postal workers, doctors, nurses, and train drivers – all of whom are concerned about rising costs of living and inflation. Usually strikes are organised by unions – groups created to represent the interests of workers in specific industries.

The writer’s strike is similar. The Writers Guild of America is a labour union and counts most writers in Hollywood as members. And the members of the union will not work again until a deal is reached between the union and the film and tv industry (represented by the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers).

What does this mean? No writer will create any new scripts, update exisiting scripts, or help with any work until a new deal is reached and agreed by a majority of union members.

There are members of the union who also work other jobs – for example in radio, online media, podcasts, and public TV. They are allowed to keep working in these industries but are not allowed to work as a writer.


Previous Writer’s Strikes

This is not the first time Hollywood’s writers have gone on strike.

In 2007-2008, writers went on strike, demanding fair compensation for their work in the digital age. The 100-day strike resulted in TV show hiatuses, film delays, and the cancellation of the 2008 Golden Globe Awards. Ultimately, the writers secured a new contract with improved terms.

But the effects of this strike were massive. It apparently cost California’s economy over $2.1 billion. And you may notice some of your favourite TV shows from around that time have shorter seasons and less episodes.

In 1988, a 22-week-long writer’s strike occurred, focusing on creative control and residual payments for TV shows. This strike caused disruptions, shorter seasons, and the introduction of replacement programming. It concluded with a new agreement addressing some of the writers’ concerns and establishing better compensation structures for reruns and video releases.

Why are the Writer’s Striking?

In 1988 the strikes were about control and payments for TV shows. In 2007 the writers went on strike over concerns about digital media and streaming. So, what are the Hollywood strikes about this year?

Writers Making Money

A lot of writers working on major Hollywood movies and TV shows are struggling to survive. This is despite working for many of the most valuable companies in the world (including Disney, Fox, and other internationally known brands).

Writers make money in a few different ways. They may write a script and sell it to a studio; they could sell an idea for a new show or movie; they get hired to rewrite and make changes to an exisiting script; or they could get a job as a regular writer on a TV show.

Writers are also entitled to residual payments – if they write episodes for an incredibly popular TV show or movie which is still shown regularly on TV (like Friends, How I Met Your Mother, or The Big Bang Theory) they may get payments from the TV station years after they wrote the scripts.

However, as there are so many writers working in Hollywood, only a few of them have long term jobs or come up with ideas that are bought for millions of dollars. Most writers are not making massive amounts of money.

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This Year’s Strike

This is the core issue at the centre of this year’s strike (and most strikes around the world): money.

There is a slightly confusing paradox in Hollywood at the moment. There are more writing jobs than ever in history due to streaming platforms like Disney+, Netflix, and Amazon Prime making hundreds of new shows every year. But at the same time the amount writers are earning is falling. Over the past decade average writer pay has declined by 4%, which is closer to 23% when adjusted to inflation and the rising cost of living.  

There are many complex reasons for this. Shows on streaming platforms tend to be shorter than normal American TV shows and may have a year or longer break between each season. More shows are released online only now which changes the way writers are paid. And the amount of unpaid work writers are expected to do is increasing (like rewriting scripts they have written for free).

If you write for a show on normal broadcast or network TV, you can get residual payments if it is a huge success. If you write for a massively successful Netflix show, you don’t get any extra or bonus payments.

Moreover, while in the past large rooms of writers and producers and senior staff would work together to create stories and scripts, it is now more common to separate the roles. This has made it more difficult for low-level writers to move towards better paid jobs and makes it easier for writers to be replaced quickly.


Artificial Intelligence

One of the other massive concerns for writers this year is artificial intelligence. AI could eventually remove the need for most TV and film writers entirely.

You may think this is impossible – computer technology will never be able to write a high-quality TV script. But AI is so new and developing quickly, we don’t know what will happen in the next few years.

I actually experimented and tested the AI myself. As many TV shows have similar formats for each episode (think about American sitcoms which have episodes with repeated structures), AI can quite easily think of episode ideas.

I logged into ChatGPT and wrote this prompt: “I want you to pretend to be a TV Writer working in Hollywood. You have been hired to generate episode ideas for a new series of the popular sitcom “Friends.” The series is set in 2023, two decades since the last season aired. Create two episode ideas (a title and one paragraph synopsis).”

And it did it. It gave me ideas for the first two episodes. I’ll post the image of its full response on the transcript, but the ideas were ok. The first episode would be the main characters reuniting, and the second episode would be about them using technology in their lives.

I then asked the AI what the main storylines and character arcs would be for the season… and it did that as well.

What does this mean? Well… TV and film studios may be able to use AI to generate ideas for new shows and episodes. Instead, they would just need to hire writers to finish the script or revise what the AI has already created. This means writers would be paid much less as the studio doesn’t need to buy their ideas.

Then there is the issue of copywrite. Artificial intelligence is known to copy, steal, and take influence from exisiting work already created. If studios are using AI, then there is a high chance that writers’ work could be stolen (just like the concern artists have with AI art).

AI is cheaper, faster, and can work longer hours than a human. And while it is not better than human writers today… it may be in the future.

The Writers’ union is trying to negotiate for deals to include not just fairer pay for writers, but also include provisions for the use and limits of AI.

What Happens Next?

The union will keep striking until its members are happy with the deal that has been negotiated with the studios. And this could take months.

I recently watched the comedy show Scrubs on Netflix, and I noticed one season had significantly less episodes than all of the other seasons. This was due to the 2007-8 writer’s strike. The effect may be less noticeable this year – many shows (especially streaming shows) have shorter seasons, pre-recorded episodes, and don’t mind taking breaks between seasons.

And there are already thousands of TV shows online for people to watch. And as movies take a long time to make, the effects of the strike will be even less noticeable.

However, there is always the possibility that other unions working in Hollywood may also join in with strikes. At the end of June, the union for Hollywood directors and the union for actors and voice actors will also need to renegotiate their deals.

And the unions representing all of the other people who work on film sets (like electricians, prop makers, and safety coordinators) have given permission for their members to also refuse work (although it is not an official strike). And the Teamsters union (representing truck drivers) have in the past refused to deliver goods to companies with striking workers.

If more unions go on strike… we could see the entirety of American TV and film stop.

Final Thought

The Hollywood writer’s strike is causing significant disruptions in the TV and film industry. The strike was initiated by the Writers Guild of America, whose members are demanding fairer compensation for their work.

The core issue revolves around declining writer pay despite an increase in the number of writing jobs. Streaming platforms and the rise of artificial intelligence pose additional challenges to writers’ livelihoods.

While the strike may not have an immediate impact on viewers due to pre-recorded episodes and shorter seasons, the long-term effects could be substantial. The union will continue striking until a satisfactory agreement is reached, but the possibility of other unions joining the strike raises concerns about a complete halt in American TV and film production.

What are your thoughts on the Hollywood writer’s strike? Do you think other unions in the industry should support the writer’s strike?

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By Tom Wilkinson

Host and founder of Thinking in English, Tom is committed to providing quality and interesting content to all English learners. Previously a research student at a top Japanese university and with a background in English teaching, political research, and Asian languages, Tom is now working fulltime on bettering Thinking in English!

One thought on “235. Why is Hollywood on Strike?: Hollywood Writer’s Strike Explained! (English Vocabulary Lesson)”
  1. My thought is that it is currently more difficult to find a resolution. The world is plagued by hideous inflation and numerous other problems. I believe that if the company places trust in AI and it performs well, they won’t regret implementing it. As consumers, we have lost many TV series and movies due to this strike. I hope that the writer achieves their objective because their work deserves recognition.

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