October 01, 2023

Be aware of what you watch

The Writers Guild of America has now been on strike since May 2, the first Hollywood strike in 15 years. For over a month, a variety of productions have been halted, including late-night talk shows, which had to immediately turn to reruns.

A statement shared by the WGA explained their decision to strike.

“The decision was made following six weeks of negotiating with Netflix, Amazon, Apple, Disney, Warner Brothers, NBC Universal, Paramount and Sony under the umbrella of the AMPTP. Though our Negotiating Committee began this process intent on making a fair deal, the studios’ responses have been wholly insufficient given the existential crisis writers are facing.”

The crises referenced heavily focus on the change in pay for writers as many productions switch to streaming services. According to an AP article, the demands the strikers have include: increased pay, better residuals, staffing requirements, shorter exclusivity deals and assurance on AI.

The last WGA strike in ‘07/08 took three months to resolve, and this strike is looking to follow the same pattern.

The other week, I went to a Christina Lauren book signing event in Ames. Lauren Billings, one of the two writers that make up the pen name Christina Lauren, talked about the WGA strike and the importance of media consumption in the months after the strike.

Because of the strikes and the way production companies have been handling them, it is likely the next year or so will be full of more reality TV than ever before. In large part, that is because reality TV doesn’t require as much in terms of writers as other media.

As these reality shows continue to churn out episodes, the production companies will be paying close attention to the stats and ratings of said shows. If the reality shows do well, production companies may use that as a sign that writers are not really needed, which is completely untrue.

As someone who likes to read and write myself, I may be biased, but the writing in a show or movie is often what makes or breaks it. The writing and plot of a show is much more important than the casting or the special effects. Take “Cats” for example.

In “Cats” there is gorgeous scenery and great special effects. The cast is star studded, with everyone from Taylor Swift and Jason Derulo to Judi Dench and Ian McKellen. It had great budget of $95 million, and even has a cult following, stemming from the Andrew Lloyd Webber musical. Despite all of this, the film did not do well.

“Cats” made $75.5 million in box office, not even breaking even. It scored a 19% on Rotten Tomatoes, a 27% from Google users and 2.8 out of 10 on IMDb. The only time I hear about people going to watch the movie now is to make fun of it.

Before “Cats” was released, I’m sure the production company thought it was going to be a hit. However, it simply fell flat, and those that did watch it did not enjoy it.

I’d like to compare this to the very different situation of the Netflix original series “Stranger Things.”

Season one of “Stranger Things” must have been scary for the producers. Relatively unknown actors and a completely unknown storyline in terms of public perception. There was a reason this was put on Netflix rather than on live TV. Before “Stranger Things,” there hadn’t really been any show that did well on a streaming platform.

For “Stranger Things,” it was the story that drew people in. The show ended up setting the record for the most-watched original Netflix series by its third season, winning numerous awards and never getting below 88% for any season on Rotten Tomatoes.

The point of all of this is, writing matters. As the writers in Hollywood continue to fight for increased pay and a better position in production world, the mega-companies of Disney and the like are watching closely to see how the public reacts. Support the writers. They are just as important, if not more so, than the actors and faces of the media.

Erin Henze

Originally from Wisconsin, Erin is a recent graduate from UW-Stevens Point. Outside of writing, she loves to read and travel.