Entertainment Industry Prepares for an Unwelcomed Sequel—Writers’ Strike II – Erich Schwartzel April 19, 2017 6:00 a.m. ET


Exclusive contracts and health-care plan are the major sticking points between the two sides

Members of the Writers Guild of America at Paramount Pictures studio in Los Angeles in 2007.

Members of the Writers Guild of America at Paramount Pictures studio in Los Angeles in 2007. Photo: Charley Gallay/Getty Images

LOS ANGELES—Hollywood is bracing for a sequel that no one in the industry wants to make: a writers’ strike.

Almost 10 years after a four-month writers’ strike over DVD residuals and digital-platform compensation nearly split the entertainment industry, a new battle is brewing between the Writers Guild of America and the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers, or AMPTP.

The key issues dividing show business this time around include exclusive contracts between writers and television shows, and the guild’s health-care plan, which the television and movie studios feel is too exorbitant.

The current contract is set to expire May 1 and talks have broken off until next week. The WGA membership is expected this week to vote for a strike authorization, which allows its negotiators to call a strike.

The labor tensions are exacerbated by the so-called peak TV era. There is more scripted television in production than ever before thanks to the growth of streaming services and more original programming by cable networks. There will be nearly 500 scripted shows produced this year, according to research by 21st Century Fox ’s FX Networks unit. WGA members say they aren’t benefiting from that growth.

Writers must “participate in the windfall we have created in the last five years,” said “Mad Men” creator Matthew Weiner in a WGA-released video urging members to vote “yes” for the strike authorization.

Executives who were at the helm of the networks 10 years ago warn that a prolonged strike would drive viewers away from television as well as do great harm to the business.

“It is incredibly damaging to the health of the entertainment community,” said Ben Silverman, a television producer and former NBC Entertainment president, adding a work stoppage “paralyzes the whole industry,” including the hundreds of thousands of ancillary nonunion members who work on TV and movie productions.

Neither the WGA or AMPTP would comment on the talks.

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