Hollywood’s labor situation goes from bad to worse

SAG-AFTRA may soon join the WGA on the picket line as they showed support for their writers counterpart. (SAG-AFTRA)

Actors likely to join writers on picket line as studios continue to hold the line

If the last 24 hours are any indication, it might be a long time before your favorite TV shows come back.

Despite a twelve day extension – and barring any last-minute deal, SAG-AFTRA is expected to hit the picket lines Thursday morning for the first time since 1980, as their contract with AMPTP expires at 2 a.m. CT. They would join the WGA, who already walked off the job May 1 and would mark two unions simultaneously on strike for the first time since 1960. 

The situation was worsened Tuesday evening as a Hollywood trade publication ran an article quoting a studio exec saying the studios should not even attempt to settle the WGA strike until late October, as the lack of paid work would “allow things to drag on until union members start losing their apartments and losing their houses”. The article angered the WGA to the point where any chance of a resolution anytime soon is basically slim to none, meaning we could see the longest Writer’s Strike in history (the 1988 strike topped out at 153 days.)

SAG-AFTRA and AMPTP agreed to an extension for the next twelve days as it seemed progress was being made. But it turned out to be a mirage, as the two sides remained far apart on everything, including the use of artificial intelligence and pay. 

With the writers and now the actors out on strike, the labor unrest would have big implications. For one, with the exception of animation, there would likely be no Hollywood presence at San Diego Comic-Con later this month as the major studios have already decided to skip the event, though mainly due to cost concerns.

The Emmy Awards – whose nominations were released this morning, would be pushed back from their traditional September date (the 32nd Primetime Emmy Awards telecast in 1980 was absent of star power due to the Screen Actors Guild strike, so a delay would make sense.) 

More importantly, production on television shows would shut down immediately across the globe – that is if they weren’t affected by the Writer’s Strike as many were already suspended. 

So now what happens? 

For one thing, the studios seem more interested in winning the PR battle over the unions  instead of ending the strike, as the idiotic quote in the trades was any indication. In fact not one studio chief – not Bob Iger, not David Zaslav, not Reed Hastings – has called for any type of action to end the writers strike – you won’t find any Lew Wasserman (former studio head of MCA) types here. It obvious the quote was a plant in the Hollywood trades – most of them owned by one company – and just before the actors go on strike. As any PR expert would tell you, this wasn’t a smart move. 

Another is the Wall Street factor where so far, investors aren’t too concerned. But as labor unrest drags on and product dries up, there would be no money to make and you can bet investors would demand action to settle the strike. Complicating this is Hollywood is in cost-cutting mode as they are taking a page from radio’s iHeartMedia, Audacy, and others who decimated their stations through the elimination of local programming and adding more voice-tracking and syndication (not to mention scoring an assist from the FCC when they eliminated the local studio rule.)

Moreover, there’s the damage this does to linear TV, already wounded by streaming as ratings continues to fall. But as we know, Big Media would cut their nose off to spite their face, as evidenced with the retransmission squabbles we’re seeing between cable/satellite providers and broadcast groups – the latest being the Nexstar-DirecTV blackout as broadcasters – including those who are owned by the very same studios who are part of AMPTP, are now more than willing to give up ratings points to get the compensation they want. 

And don’t forget, there’s advertisers and media buyers. The longer this strike drags on, the more money they can shift out of prime-time television into other media, especially if they can’t afford the NFL or college football. Advertisers are attracted to big stars such as Angela Bassett on 9-1-1 or Rob Lowe on 9-1-1 LoneStar, or the cast of Abbott Elementary – they are less enthusiastic about Jan Van Pelt from Tallahassee, Fla. trying to get laid on Farmer Wants A Wife. Are the studios willing to infuriate those who pay the freight? 

While I read about the industry “in freefall”, I don’t think it’ll completely go off the cliff. Television has bounced back before, particularly from the labor unrest in the early 1980s though it took some time due to the recession and other economic problems. But it will take a lot of time – especially as both sides would have to rebuild trust with each other, and perhaps longer than they did before. 


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