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The writers’ strike that has paralyzed Hollywood is about to complete a month, 31 days in which television production has been left with no one willing to write dialogues. Television has had no choice but to adapt to the new reality and many are already wondering how many of the measures they have applied to cushion the delays could crystallize into more permanent trends.

The scriptwriters, waiting for a solution, like the one in 2007.

Why doesn’t television have someone to write it?

The strike took place after tense negotiations to establish the bases of the new agreement applicable to workers in the sector. Finally, the Writers Guild of America (WGA) and the Association of Motion Picture and Television Producers (AMTP) They were unable to reach an agreement on issues such as financial compensation, payment of copyright, audience data, health insurance or the use of generative artificial intelligence in scriptwriters’ rooms, among others..

The positions of both parties could not be further apart. The scriptwriters claim an improvement in their working conditions, according to them heavily precarious since the emergence of the original production of streaming platforms which, they say, has reduced their employment relationship with the projects, which in the end affects their professional development.

As showrunner Mike Schur explained in the podcast The Town, that a junior scriptwriter becomes showrunner and executive producer of his own program has always been linked to its continuity, season after season, in the same project, since a work environment is generated in which the most veterans train the more newbies. However, in the realm of streaming, with programs and series becoming shorter in episodes and seasonss, it is difficult for this phenomenon to occur.

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Rick Cleveland, writer of series like two meters underground either The West Wing of the White House:”Now the writers write the scripts three months before production begins and then most leave the project. The showrunner (something like the author-producer) and another writer stay to supervise the production of each chapter, regardless of who wrote them. Even if you are in a great program you can be out of a job in the blink of an eye. And even if the showrunner wanted you and wanted you back for the second season of that show, it’s going to be at least a year or more before the next season starts, so you have to find another job.”

In addition, the exploitation model of platform productions (which is limited to the service and has given up selling to third parties, as has always been done on television) has decimated the economic benefits generated by his work once it is releasedoh, the famous royalties.

Producers see it differently, mainly due to the economic situation in which they find themselves. Wall Street pressures them to make their businesses profitables and an economic improvement in conditions would produce greater financial pressure on them.

The previous strike was sixteen years ago, lasted one hundred days, and cost the industry two billion dollars.

A new oasis for reality television?

The previous writers’ strike, in 2007, lasted 100 days and cost the industry $2 billion. The current one is already beginning to become evident on North American television schedules. The first programs to feel the effects of the strike have been “late nights” and sitcoms. And the tsunami will not take long to affect prime time, which largely monopolizes fiction.

The effects that the 2007 strike had on television give us some clues as to what could happen this time. So the television channels made use of reruns and, above all, programs “without a script” (unscripted), whose premieres exceeded one hundred. The genre that benefited the most was reality television (a television genre that is responsible for documenting situations without a script and with current occurrences), which experienced exponential growth in said period.

“I wouldn’t say the writers’ strike created reality television. I would say that more people saw it because there was nothing else to see, was the only alternative to reruns”, assured East Peterson, of the WGA, then.

Everything seems to indicate that, also on this occasion, the “non-scripted” docu-reality programs, the infotainment, the “coaching shows” (that is, programs in which mentors advise contestants, such as The voice) or the docuseries they will save the furniture again.

In reality, these so-called non-fiction shows also require scriptwriters, although they are in a different format than fictional shows. Furthermore, in the case of the United States, most of its workers are not affiliated with the WGA. On the other hand, there are examples of programs that cannot be made precisely because their writers are union members and support the strike.

the fifth season of stranger thingssuspended due to the strike.

Closed projects but pending successes

And what will happen to the platforms? It seems that, at least for now, they are covered. Ted Sarandos, CEO of Netflix, declared a few weeks before the strike that they had a robust production that would protect them in the event that the writers did not agree to sign the agreement.

However, some of its strategic projects (such as stranger things) have had to be suspended until further notice. The rest of the services that operate globally are in a more or less similar situation. But they could get around it without having to wait for an agreement between the WGA and the AMTP.

Although international unions discourage foreign writers from working for productions that are currently halted by the US strike, writing for local formats is different. The broad international fabric that the platforms have developed in recent years will make it not particularly difficult to find scriptwriters that allow them to activate local original production and thus generate content.

Streaming could decaffeinate the change in consumption trend as accentuated as the one that occurred fifteen years ago. What does not seem is that it will be able to prevent the funnel of fiction releases that will occur once the situation returns to normal.

The Conversation
By Elena Neira, associate professor of Communication and Information Studies at the UOC, UOC – Universitat Oberta de Catalunya
Photos: 123RF

The Conversation

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