‘SNL,’ Late-Night, Scripted Shows Go Dark After Hollywood Writers Strike
It’s never been funny to tell the same joke twice. If the material on The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon and Jimmy Kimmel Live! wasn’t already stale by the time it left the host’s mouths, it certainly will be when those same episodes are looped back into rotation as production on the late-night circuit is halted following the initiation of a strike among movie and television writers.
Late-night TV took the first hit when the strike was announced on Monday evening. The Writers Guild of America West unveiled plans to go forward with the strike after the threat of doing so loomed over six weeks of negotiations with the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers. The decision arrived via unanimous vote between their board of directors and Writers Guild of America East’s council and went into effect at 12:01 a.m. on Tuesday, May 2.
“Hopefully there is no strike, that’s what I’m hoping for. We’ll find out tonight,” Fallon told Variety on the Met Gala red carpet last night. “But I wouldn’t have a show if it weren’t for my writers, and I support them all the way. They gotta have a fair contract, and they have a lot of stuff to iron out. Hopefully, they get it done.”
On Tuesday, Saturday Night Live joined The Late Show With Stephen Colbert, Late Night With Seth Meyers, and The Daily Show in announcing it will go dark beginning this weekend, with its planned Pete Davidson-hosted episode being nixed and replaced with a repeat. “SNL will air repeats until further notice starting Saturday, May 6,” NBC said in a statement via The Hollywood Reporter.
Beyond those late-night shows, it also remains the question of what becomes of shows such as Last Week Tonight With John Oliver over the coming days, during which they would normally have writers hard at work preparing for the week’s production just like SNL. Then there’s the matter of all the other sectors of the industry that rely on the Writers Guild.
Additionally, several scripted shows were immediately effected by the strike. The writers room for the Emmy-winning sitcom, Abbott Elementary, was supposed to start working today, but obviously did not. And Yellowjackets co-creator Ashley Lyle said that progress on Season Three had stopped after “exactly one day” in the writers room.
“It was amazing, and creatively invigorating, and so much fun, and I’m very excited to get back to it as soon as the #WGA gets a fair deal,” Lyle tweeted
The writers room for Cobra Kai also shut down as the show continues production on its sixth and final season. “We hate to strike, but if we must, we strike hard,” tweeted co-creator Jon Hurwitz. “Pencils down in the Cobra Kai writers room. No writers on set. These aren’t fun times, but it’s unfortunately necessary. The moment a fair deal is in place, we’ll get back to kicking ass. In the meantime, sending strength and support to the negotiating committee.”
Negotiations with the AMPTP, which represents Disney and Netflix, among other studios, stalled as the two entities failed to reach an agreement regarding the WGA’s requests for a TV staffing minimum, guaranteed minimum number of weeks of employment per season, a streaming residual, increased minimums, and regulation of artificial intelligence.
The AMPTP rejected many of these requests without countering with a negotiated offer. When they did consider a counteroffer, such as with matters regarding adjusted minimums, it was with numbers significantly lower than what was being asked for. According to Variety, the WGA requested proposals amounting to $429 million per year, only for the studios to counter with offers totaling $86 million per year.
The writer’s strike marks the industry’s first since 2007. Since then, film and television have undergone significant changes as both sectors adjusted practices to adapt to the streaming age. Along the way, the safety net of residuals — which allow writers to be paid across their career for replays and syndications — has all but disappeared, while more and more cancellations hit productions that aren’t immediately billed a success.
“Companies have done everything they can to push writers’ pay down as little as possible,” WGA chief negotiator Ellen Stutzman recently told Rolling Stone. “It is a crisis point for writers in terms of the viability and sustainability of writing as a career. The goal is to get a contract for our members that addresses their concerns and puts money back in writers’ pockets and fairly compensates them for the value that they create for this industry.”
The WGA’s contract, which expired on Monday following these stalled negotiations, was first put into effect in May 2020. Not exactly pre-pandemic, but early enough in an era of unprecedented change not to have had the foresight needed to know just how grim the industry would look by its expiration three years later.
Now, writers fear that the industry’s top players are welcoming the emergence of the same freelance-based, gig-economy landscape that has hit other industries in recent years, including the music industry.
“Here is what all writers know: The companies have broken this business,” the guild leadership told members Monday night, according to Variety. “They have taken so much from the very people, the writers, who have made them wealthy. But what they cannot take from us is each other, our solidarity, our mutual commitment to save ourselves and this profession that we love.”
The nature of creating film and television is inherently collaborative, much like a Jenga tower. If these more than 11,000 screenwriters are going down, they’re taking Universal, Paramount, Netflix, Amazon, Apple, and whatever other studios they need to down with them.
“We had hoped to do this through reasonable conversation,” the guild leadership added. “Now, we will do it through struggle. For the sake of our present and our future, we have been given no other choice.”
This story was updated 5/2/23 @ 2:36 p.m. ET with news of several scripted shows going dark following the start of the strike, and at 4:24 p.m. ET with news that Saturday Night Live will be airing repeats until further notice.