Writers Guild of America steps up pressure on studios by reaching out to advertisers

Writers Guild of America picketers march outside CBS Studios in Los Angeles in 2007.
Writers Guild of America picketers march outside CBS Studios in Los Angeles in 2007.
(Anne Cusack / Los Angeles Times)

As the the threat of a writers strike continues to hang over Hollywood, the Writers Guild of America is intensifying pressure on the major studios by reaching out directly to advertisers, saying that a potential strike could lead to delays in the fall TV season and would likely harm ratings.

In a letter Tuesday to media-buying agencies, the guild’s West Coast branch said that if a new contract isn’t reached by the May 1 deadline, a walkout by writers would create a domino effect of delays that would be felt through the fall, when many broadcast series debut their new seasons.

“Any delay in the start of work has the potential to postpone fall season premieres and reduce the amount of new programming available to advertisers and audiences,” wrote David Young, executive director the Writers Guild of America West.

He noted that ratings dropped during the last writers strike, which began in late 2007 and lasted 100 days, as networks relied on reruns to fill the creative void. If a strike happens this year, “we would expect the delay or loss of original primetime programming will similarly affect ratings.”


Among the shows that will be hit almost immediately are the late-night talk programs that rely on writers to come up with jokes and witty banter on a nightly basis.

The guild’s letter comes as the cable networks are holding their “upfronts” — an important conclave between the TV industry and Madison Avenue during which ad buyers purchase commercial time ahead of a new season. The upfronts for broadcast networks are scheduled for next month.

Negotiations fell apart in March between writers and the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers, the organization that represents that studios, networks and independent producers. Talks are set to resume Monday, although the two sides are still far apart on issues that include higher minimums for writers and bigger employer contributions to the health plan, which has run deficits in recent years.

Also at stake are residuals for streaming services including Netflix and Amazon. The guild is arguing that streaming residuals aren’t commensurate with residuals that writers receive from traditional broadcast shows.

Leaders set a strike authorization vote to begin later this month, saying that the studios have refused to budge on many of the negotiating points.

The AMPTP has stated that writers walked away from its latest proposal, an assertion that the guild has denied. The alliance said in a statement that “keeping the industry working is in everyone’s best interests.”