Back in late 2007, there was a three-month strike between the major studios of Hollywood and the Writer’s Guild of America (WGA), the largest labor union representing professional writers working in the entertainment industry. That strike was one of the most disruptive forces to hit the industry in decades. Like many other labor strikes, much of the issue came down to money. MOst of it came down to how much writers were getting paid in residuals for things like DVD sales and other emerging distribution channels.
Even though the dispute was resolved, there were major effects on various shows and movies. If you want to know why there were so many reality TV shows that emerged in the late 2000s, this is a major factor. Shows that don’t employ elaborate stories or scripted content don’t have to pay a large writing staff. That means more profits for the studios and the executives.
As someone who tends to despise reality TV, I hated this trend.
And to those who watched those shows and continue to do so, just know that the situation we now find ourselves in with respect to entertainment is largely because of you.
Flash forward to today and the WGA has gone on strike again. Now, I’m sure most peoples’ primary concern is whether or not this will affect their favorite shows. As someone who loves binging non-reality TV shows, I admit that is a concern for me too. However, even if your favorite shows end up affected, do not cast the blame on the writers. That’s like blaming the miners who get trapped in a mine and not the corrupt executives who skimped on safety.
This latest strike promises to be different compared to what happened in 2007. A lot has changed in the entertainment industry since then, even before the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. Now, residual revenue for DVD sales is less a concern because fewer consumers are buying DVDs. So much of everything has gone to streaming now and that’s seriously impacting writers’ ability to make a living from their craft.
On top of that, there’s the emergence of AI chatbots like ChatGPT that could potentially undermine writers even more by allowing studios to basically let AI fill in rather than paying another writer. And anyone who knows anything about how most industries operates, including entertainment, understands that if executives can increase profits by squeezing out workers, they’ll do it. And they usually won’t hesitate because the financial incentives are just too strong.
This, more than anything, is why we the consumers should side with the WGA. Even if it means your favorite shows get delayed, this is one labor struggle that goes beyond just pay disputes. Writers in entertainment weren’t making much beforehand. I’ve even heard a few jokes online among the comic publishing crowd that certain comic writers, especially those who independently publish, make more money than some of the writers on major shows and movies.
And it’s set to get worse and many studios are seeking to treat their writers like gig workers. Instead of employing a consistent, stable writing staff that knows each other and understands the product, studios think they can just hire a few freelancers, pay them less, and get a product that’ll still be watched by fans. And since these writers won’t have rights to residuals or copyrights, then the studio can keep more of the profits.
This should concern you, the consume. Because if the entertainment industry is screwing skilled writers out of money, then that will eventually affect the quality of every show and movie you see. If you think things are bland now with every major studios just milking established franchises to death, I promise it’ll get worse if they squeeze out talented writers.
Great writing is how underrated shows like “Arcane” can somehow find an audience.
Great writing is how shows like “Avatar: The Last Airbender” can become beloved franchises.
Great writing is how movies like “Puss in Boots: The Last Wish” can end up being way better than anyone thought it could be.
As someone who still aspires to be a good writer one day, I may have some bias when it comes to who I side with in an issue like this. But if you’re a consumer of entertainment that doesn’t suck, or just don’t want to go through another glut of reality TV again, it’s in your interest to side with the WGA.
They work hard to entertain us.
They work hard to enchant, inspire, and enlighten us.
That’s not something you can reduce to gig work. That deserves both our respect, as well as fair compensation for their labor.