Hollywood screenwriters reach tentative deal to end strike

Striking Hollywood screenwriters reached a tentative new labor agreement with studios including Walt Disney Co. and Netflix Inc., settling one of two walkouts that have shut down film and TV production.

The Writers Guild of America, which represents more than 11,500 Hollywood scribes, said Sunday it reached the deal with the Alliance of Motion Picture & Television Producers, the studios’ bargaining group. The agreement, if approved by the guild members, will end a strike that began on May 2.

The provisional three-year deal remains subject to the completion of contract language and recommendations from the union’s council and board, which could come as soon as Tuesday. Members would vote after that. The strike continues through that process.

“We can say, with great pride, that this deal is exceptional – with meaningful gains and protections for writers in every sector of the membership,” the guild said in a statement. 

The writers went on strike for the first time since 2007 to fight for higher pay from streaming services, which have reshaped how TV is made and how talent gets paid. The Screen Actors Guild joined them in July over similar concerns.

Details of the agreement won’t be announced for a few days, however people familiar with the matter said earlier that writers gained concessions on key points, including higher wages.

The studios have agreed to staff a certain number of writers on their TV shows, a figure that will increase with the number of episodes in a season, one of the people said. The two sides have also created a structure in which writers will receive bonuses for popular shows on streaming services.

And it appears they have also reached an agreement on the use of artificial intelligence, which writers feared could destroy jobs.

Production of hundreds of films and TV shows stopped as a result of the strikes, impacting not just writers and actors but directors, crew members and industries like catering and real estate. With less money coming in, talent agencies fired workers and studios suspended deals with major producers to cut costs. Awards shows have been delayed and film festivals held without stars. The walkout has delayed the return of new shows for the fall TV season, and many films scheduled to debut this year were pushed into 2024. 

Shares of studios gained in premarket trading on Monday. Paramount Global rose 2.5%, Netflix was up 0.9% and Disney gained 0.8%. 

The studios and writers didn’t come close to a deal before the onset of the strike, and the studios and writers then didn’t negotiate for months, during which thousands of guild members protested outside the studios’ offices from New York to Los Angeles. While the economics of streaming remained the primary focus of the guilds, the threat of artificial intelligence also emerged as a growing concern.

The heads of the biggest media companies got more engaged with the dispute in late July and early August, after the actors joined the strike. The studios offered a new proposal in August that addressed many, but not all, of the writers’ concerns. The two sides negotiated for a couple of weeks before breaking off yet again.

The September negotiations came as a surprise. The two sides hadn’t been speaking — at least not officially — and many studio executives were debating whether it was time to engage with the actors instead.

But pressure on both sides to cut a deal had increased. Studios feared the impact of months more without the ability to produce new programming, and many writers began to push their union’s leadership to cut a deal so everyone could get back to work. 

People who work in entertainment, be they writers or grips, were starting to leave Los Angeles due to the lack of progress. Prominent writers asked to meet with the leadership of the guild to discuss the state of the negotiations, and several talk shows said they would return, only to cancel plans under pressure from the unions.

When the latest talks began, four of the most powerful executives in entertainment — Netflix Chief Executive Officer Ted Sarandos, Disney CEO Bob Iger, Warner Bros. Discovery Inc. CEO David Zaslav and NBCUniversal Chief Content Officer Donna Langley — joined their labor negotiators.

The studios and writers negotiated for several days. After months of public acrimony and finger-pointing, the two sides kept their public communications to a minimum as they hammered out a deal to get the industry back to work.

While the writers’ rooms may soon reopen, a return to production will have to await a deal with striking actors, who have been picketing from coast to coast, shutting down productions that tried to restart. This was the first time in more than 60 years that both writers and actors went on strike at the same time. The Directors Guild of America reached a new agreement with the studios in June. –BLOOMBERG