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Updated: September 21, 2023
Sherman Oaks, CA – The Writers Guild of America (WGA) resumed negotiations with major studios on Wednesday, marking the 142nd day of the ongoing writers strike, inching closer to breaking previous strike duration records. In a surprising turn of events, several top CEOs, including Bob Iger of Disney, Ted Sarandos of Netflix, Donna Langley of NBCUniversal, and David Zaslav of Warner Bros. Discovery, participated in the talks held in Sherman Oaks.
The discussions concluded late in the afternoon, with plans to reconvene on Thursday, according to an inside source familiar with the negotiations. All four CEOs are expected to return to the bargaining table on Thursday.
In a potentially positive development, both sides issued a joint statement at 5 p.m., signaling a willingness to continue discussions. The statement read, “The WGA and AMPTP met for bargaining today and will meet again tomorrow.”
During the session, WGA representatives primarily listened to new proposals put forth by the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers (AMPTP). Chris Keyser, co-chair of the WGA negotiating committee, also addressed the union’s key demands.
The WGA is anticipated to respond to the latest offers from the AMPTP on Thursday. The source described Wednesday’s session as “encouraging.”
Historically, CEOs have allowed professional negotiators to handle the bargaining process, but as the strike has persisted, they have become more directly involved. A significant meeting took place on August 22 when the CEOs met with WGA leaders, which the writers described as a “lecture.”
Over the past month, both sides had been waiting for the other to respond to their latest proposals. At one point, the WGA suggested that the inflexibility of the AMPTP might necessitate its breakup.
The primary points of contention revolve around the WGA’s demand for a residual formula based on streaming platform viewership and a mandatory minimum staffing level for TV writers’ rooms. In response, the AMPTP proposed allowing showrunners to hire at least two writers per show. Additionally, the AMPTP offered a 15% first-year increase in minimum rates for writer-producers, but the WGA seeks a 20% higher rate than story editors.
Both parties have reached an agreement to ensure that writers using artificial intelligence (AI) to aid in scriptwriting will not lose credit or pay. However, they remain at odds over the use of AI to train on writers’ scripts.
The prolonged strike has cast doubt on the networks’ ability to salvage any part of the 2023-24 TV season. Several film releases have already been postponed to 2024, and the Emmys have been rescheduled to January.
The strike has also taken a toll on below-the-line workers, who have sought over $54 million in “hardship withdrawals” from their retirement accounts.
SAG-AFTRA, the actors’ union, has been on strike for 69 days, focusing on similar issues such as streaming residuals and increased minimums. They are also advocating for “informed consent” for actors regarding the use of AI to recreate their likenesses.
If the strike continues beyond October 3, it will surpass the duration of the two longest strikes in WGA history: the 1960 strike, lasting 148 days, and the 1988 strike, lasting 154 days. The 2023 strike could potentially set a new record if it continues beyond these dates.
The presence of Iger, Langley, Sarandos, and Zaslav in the negotiations was initially reported by The Hollywood Reporter.
Contributors: Matt Donnelly and Cynthia Littleton