WGA Leaders Seeking Multiple Gains for TV Writers in Pay, Option Terms

Dave McNary

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The Writers Guild of America has told the major studios that television writers need improved per-episode compensation and looser rules over how long writers can be held to a show.

“TV series on television and streaming platforms provide the majority of employment opportunities for our members,” the WGA negotiating committee said in a message to members Thursday. “Still, certain trends in television production and consumption, particularly on the streaming platforms, continue to place downward pressure on writer income. These include the move toward short seasons, uncertain release schedules, and the separation of writing from production itself. The perverse effect of this is that, while the content we create, now distributed worldwide to hundreds of millions of viewers, has spurred an explosion in industry profits, writers continue to fall behind.”

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The negotiating committee disclosed its focus on the issue in a message sent to members about the guild’s talks with the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers. Representatives of the WGA and AMPTP are facing a June 30 expiration of the current film and TV contract. Talks began two weeks ago on a remote basis due to the coronavirus pandemic after two start dates were vacated. The committee has sent out eight messages to members since last week, including demands for parental leave, foreign box office residuals, and higher streaming residuals.

Thursday’s message noted that the WGA had negotiated safeguards in 2017 to protect writers on short order series, which can now be as few as six episodes per season.

“But the salary cap on those provisions means that too many writers are still seeing their weekly compensation pushed toward minimum,” the WGA message said. “We propose eliminating the earnings cap on span protection.”

The message also noted that short orders and uncertain production schedules, both for series and pilots, have resulted in too many writers being held for extended periods of time, even after limited terms of employment.

“In today’s television market, writers need to be able to move on to the next job to make our year,” the WGA said. “Protections that were put in place over the last two negotiation cycles were a start, but they have too many exceptions. We propose that limits on options and exclusivity now extend to all writers who are not on overall deals, without regard to earnings, and that the option period not exceed 30 days.”

The missive also noted that increasingly, writers are being asked to break an entire season of story in rooms that meet for brief periods of time and pay them only scale and those  writers often forego their episodic fees.  “Weekly compensation needs to be adjusted to reflect that more work is being done in a condensed period of time and to reward the value of the content that mini room writers create,” the WGA said.

The WGA is also proposing a higher minimum for writers working as a team and that script fees must be paid for every script, to staff writers, just like any other writer. “And we propose that staff writers get on-screen credit, like all other writers on the series and, for that matter, everyone else who works on the show,” the committee added.

The WGA talks are taking place concurrently with SAG-AFTRA holding remote negotiations with the AMPTP on a successor deal. The performers union, which launched its contract talks on April 27, also faces a June 30 expiration.

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