Business & Economy

Hollywood watches as writers negotiations resume

Striking members of the Writers Guild picket in Century City during their last strike in 2007.
Striking members of the Writers Guild picket in Century City during their last strike in 2007.
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Negotiations are set to resume Monday between Hollywood writers represented by the Writer's Guild of America and producers, represented by the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers. The writers are threatening to walk off the job May 2 when their three-year contract expires.

Monday's talks would be the first since negotiations broke off March 23, when both sides blamed the other for walking away. An online strike authorization vote – seen as a formality at this point – is scheduled for April 18-24. 

"I don’t make predictions," said Christoper Keyser, one of the co-chairs of the Guild's negotiating committee. "All I can say is we’re continuing to negotiate."

The main issue is that writers feel they're not being compensated fairly in this age of peak TV. Keyser traces the problem to the way a lot of TV seasons have shrunk. Most used to run more than 20 episodes, but today many have half that many or fewer. 

"Writers are paid per episode," noted Keyser, adding that the new short seasons with their movie-like production values "take almost as long as long seasons to produce." That's why writers’ salaries "are plummeting," he said.

Writers' incomes have declined 23 percent over the last two years, according to the Guild. At the same time, the Guild says media companies like Disney and CBS are raking in record profits and new entrants to Hollywood like Amazon and Netflix are not exactly hurting, either.

The Alliance has not commented on the pay dispute or any other issue in the negotiations. Meanwhile, the Guild has stepped up its politicking, going so far as to send a letter to media buyers last week warning that a strike could have significant impact on next season's primetime programming. 

The last writers' strike in 2007-2008 was a bitter affair that lasted 100 days and cost the California economy more than $2 billion, according to the Milken Institute.