Just as Hollywood seemed to be recovering from the ravages of the COVID-19 pandemic, a new crisis has gripped the entertainment capital of the world. On May 2, 2023, the Writers Guild of America (WGA), representing over 11,000 writers across various entertainment formats, declared a strike. This walkout, reminiscent of the industry-wide shutdown during the pandemic, has led to a significant disruption in Hollywood, with the production of several major TV shows coming to a standstill.
The circumstances surrounding the writers’ strike bear striking similarities to the impact of the pandemic on the industry. As COVID-19 led to halted productions, delayed releases, and a shift toward streaming services, the writers’ strike has also disrupted the usual operations of studios, forcing them to put numerous projects on hold. Just as the pandemic created an existential crisis for the industry, the WGA has referred to the strike as an “existential crisis” for writers, highlighting the gravity of the situation.
The strike was triggered by the union’s demand for higher pay and a stable pay structure, fairer deals and contracts, and provisions about artificial intelligence. The guild cited a substantial decline in the median weekly writer-producer pay — a 23% drop over the last decade when adjusted for inflation. This decline in income, according to the guild, is largely due to the rise of streaming services, which have altered the traditional business model and made it difficult for writers to find consistent, well-paying work.
The streaming revolution was, in many ways, catalyzed by the COVID-19 pandemic. As lockdowns became the norm globally, consumers turned to streaming platforms for entertainment. While this shift brought prosperity for streamers, it ushered in an era of uncertainty for writers. The binge-watch culture led to shorter seasons, less consistent renewals, and the evolution of ‘mini rooms’ — a scaled-down version of writers’ rooms that hire fewer writers for shorter periods, often at lower pay. These conditions echo the job insecurity and financial instability experienced by many in the entertainment industry during the pandemic.
Just like the pandemic highlighted the need for health and safety measures in the industry, the writers’ strike underscores the need for improved working conditions, fair compensation, and job security for writers. The strike has forced the industry to confront some harsh realities, much like the pandemic did. Streaming services, which now employ half of all writers, pay fewer residuals for both new and pre-existing shows, leading to lower incomes for writers. In a way, the strike is a call to rectify these inequalities, just as the pandemic was a wake-up call for better health and safety regulations in the industry.
The impact of the strike, much like the pandemic, extends beyond the writers themselves. Productions have halted, late-night shows are airing reruns, and many non-writer crew members have joined the strike in solidarity, leading to an industry-wide slowdown. This echoes the widespread shutdown experienced during the peak of the COVID-19 pandemic.
However, the resilience shown by the industry during the pandemic gives hope for a similar recovery post-strike. The last significant WGA strike in 2007-2008 resulted in a reality TV boom, demonstrating the industry’s capacity for innovation and adaptation in the face of adversity.
In conclusion, the 2023 Hollywood Writers’ Strike, much like the COVID-19 pandemic, is a crisis moment for the entertainment industry. Both events have forced a reckoning of industry norms, emphasizing the need for fair practices and improved working conditions. As Hollywood navigates this new challenge, lessons learned from the pandemic could be invaluable in finding a path forward, one that ensures the survival and prosperity of all stakeholders in the entertainment industry.