NEW YORK (AP) — Late-night television shows including “The Tonight Show” and “The Daily Show” will begin reruns Tuesday as union scriptwriters hit by low wages in the streaming era go on strike for the first time in 15 years.
The Writers Guild of America’s 11,500 film and television writers put down their pens and laptops after failing to reach a new contract with the trade association representing Hollywood studios and production companies.
Depending on how long the strike lasts, the labor dispute could have a cascading effect on TV and film production, and streaming services are under growing pressure from Wall Street to show profitability.
Just as the 2007 writers’ strike lasted 100 days, midnight television was the first to feel the fallout.
All the great late-night shows, staffed by writers writing monologues and jokes for their hosts, went dark immediately. NBC’s “The Tonight Show,” Comedy Central’s “Daily Show,” ABC’s Jimmy Kimmel Live, CBS’s “The Late Show” and NBC’s “Late Night” all made reruns throughout the week.
NBC did not immediately comment on plans for “Saturday Night Live.” A new episode of the sketch show hosted by Pete Davidson is scheduled to air on Saturday.
“Everyone, including myself, is hopeful that both sides will reach an agreement. But I don’t think the writers’ demands are unreasonable,” host Stephen Colbert said on the “Late Show” on Monday.
“This country owes a lot to unions,” Colbert said. “Unions are the reason we have weekends, and the reason we have TGI Fridays.”
The impact of the strike on scripted serials and films will take longer to notice; Those with a completed script are allowed to continue shooting. During the 2007 strike, late-night anchors eventually returned to broadcasting and improvised their way through the shows.
A late-night show is never dark. Fox News’ “Cutfeld!” Fox said Tuesday that it will continue to air new episodes with Greg Gutfeld.
The Writers Guild is seeking a higher minimum wage, less staffed writing rooms, shorter exclusivity contracts and a reworking of residual pay — which it says has declined in the streaming-driven content boom.
“The companies’ behavior has created a gig economy within a unionized workforce,” the WGA said in a statement.
Picket lines were planned for Tuesday in Los Angeles and New York, outside a Manhattan building where NBCUniversal is holding an event for advertisers of its streaming service, Peacock.
In Los Angeles, writers plan to protest outside the offices of Walt Disney Co., Netflix, Amazon, Universal, Warner Bros., Paramount, CBS and Sony.
The Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers, which represents studios and production companies, said it would offer a “generous increase in writers’ compensation and improvements to streaming residuals.”
The trade association said in a statement that it was willing to upgrade its offer “but was unwilling to do so given the number of other proposals still on the table that the Guild continues to push for.”
A shutdown has been widely predicted for months. Last month the writers voted overwhelmingly to approve the strike, with 98% membership support. Writers say their pay hasn’t kept up with inflation, TV writers’ rooms have shrunk so much that the old calculation of how those who remain are paid must be redrawn..
Streaming has exploded the number of series and movies produced annually, which means more job opportunities for writers. But writers say they’re doing less than they used to when they’re working under more difficult conditions.
The Guild offers to compensate writers more. That’s because many payers that have historically profited from the back end — like syndication and international licensing — have largely been phased out by the onset of streaming.
More writers — nearly half — are paid less, up 16% over the past decade.
Hollywood’s trade association said Monday that the primary sticking points in the deal were so-called small rooms — the guild seeks a minimum number of writers per writer’s room — and the length of employment contracts.
Guild said writers need more flexibility when signing series with shorter runs than the once-standard 20-plus-episode broadcast season.
Many studios and production companies are cutting costs. The Walt Disney Company is cutting 7,000 jobs. Warner Bros. Discovery is cutting costs to reduce its debt. Netflix has disrupted spending growth.
Movies will take longer to be affected, and if the strike lasts through the summer, fall TV schedules could be boosted. Meanwhile, the lack of writers to rewrite can have a dramatic effect on quality.
The James Bond film “Quantum of Solace” was one of several films rushed into production during the 2007-2008 strike, which Daniel Craig called “the bare bones of the script.”
“I tried to rewrite the scenes — and I’m not a writer,” Craig later recounted.
With the exodus long anticipated, writers rushed to get scripts and studios scrambled to prepare their pipelines to churn out content for at least a short period of time.
David Zaslau, chief executive of Warner Bros. Discovery, said last month that “we assume the worst from a business perspective.” “We are ready. We have a lot of content produced.
Foreign series may also fill some of the void. “We have a huge platform of upcoming shows and movies from all over the world,” Netflix co-chief executive Ted Sarandos said on the company’s earnings call in April.
Yet the WGA strike may be just beginning. Both the Directors Guild of America and SAG-AFTRA contracts expire in June. Some of the same issues surrounding streaming’s business model will factor into those bargaining sessions. DGA is set to start negotiations with AMPTP on May 10. ___
AP Media writer David Potter in New York contributed to this report.
Follow AP film writer Jake Coyle on Twitter: http://twitter.com/jakecoyleAP