Crunch time in Hollywood, as writers' union votes overwhelmingly for strike

Should today's negotiations break down, TV productions could be forced into hiatus by next week

Crunch time in Hollywood, as writers' union votes overwhelmingly for strike

A writer pickets in front of the Paramount lot during the 07/08 strike [Kevork Djansezian/AP/Press Association Images]

With more than 96% of those voting in favour, the Writers Guild of America has decided to strike for the first time in a decade.

Studios and production companies have been holding meetings in order to figure out a way to cope with the interruption to film schedules, with pickets expected to start as early as May 2nd. Contract negotiations will continue today, with Variety reporting that it will likely "go down to the wire."

Hollywood insiders remain hopeful that a new deal can be brokered in the next week, but with broadcast networks set to announce their planned schedules for the months to come in mid-May, the industry is facing a squeeze.

Should the strike take place, all 12,000 WGA members would be required to stop working immediately. The first hit would be felt by late night chat shows, which would be forced to go on hiatus, while scripted and summer shows currently in production, will experience delays down the line.

The WGA reported that 6,310 ballots were cast, with the near unanimous vote showing similar levels of support at the 2007 strike decision. That 100-day picket had devastating effects on the industry, crippling the 2007-08 television season and losing Hollywood billions of dollars in revenue.

Neil Patrick Harris stars as Doctor Horrible in Joss Whedon's Dr Horrible's Sing-Along Blog, a YouTube short created during the 2007 WGA strike

But this year’s potential strike is looming on the horizon, with issues even more complicated than 2007’s to be ironed out in the coming days; the guild is asking for a pay rise in script fees and minimum payments to address the how scriptwriters’ overall salaries have tumbled due to the changing nature of the entertainment business.

The union wants to see parity between the money paid to writers on network and cable television as to those writing from streaming and on-demand services. Writers working on those platforms are also typically obliged to produce scripts for shorter seasons, with most series running 13 episodes or fewer per season.

The WGA also wants production companies to contribute more to the union’s healthcare fund, which is operating at a loss.

"Writers in the 1960s struck to establish these benefits," the WGA said in a statement. "Protecting them is a key goal of the Guild. In this negotiation, we don’t seek a better health plan, only a solvent one."

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