ND Expert Christine Becker on tentative WGA deal: ‘One agreement sets a bar for others’

Author: Carrie Gates

ND Experts

Christine Becker

Christine Becker

Film, Television, and Theatre

Christine Becker

The Writers Guild of America has been remarkably unified throughout its nearly five-month strike. And that’s a very long time to be out of work and walking a picket line, said Christine Becker, an associate professor of film, television and theater at the University of Notre Dame, especially for the rank-and-file writer who doesn’t have years of residuals to fall back on — but also for the well-off showrunner who just wants to get back on the job.

“The Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers was banking on cracks in the alliance to enable a lesser offer, but early reporting indicates that the writers got the lion’s share of what they were demanding,” Becker said. “The union held strong, bolstered with support from others like the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees, the Teamsters and fellow strikers SAG-AFTRA. And, importantly, they were all visibly unified thanks to social media.”

While the studios might have expected that Bill Maher and Drew Barrymore announcing a restart to their talk shows during the strike would provide that essential first crack, Becker noted that the hosts faced immediate, intense backlash.

“That backlash — fueled by social media shame not just from writers but even from TV viewers, who have largely favored the writers’ side — led them to reverse their decisions within days,” she said. “If there were any fissures, they weren’t going to expand quickly enough for the AMPTP to gain an advantage.”

It’s also crucial to note, Becker said, that the writers weren’t fighting only for pay boosts. They have also campaigned against artificial intelligence infiltration and for minimum writers’ room staffing — issues that are part of structural transformations in the industry they’re experiencing firsthand.

“Waiting to contend with those matters until the next contractual negotiation in only three years would have been too late,” she said. “The entire entertainment sector is rapidly changing but, for the time being, creative workers are navigating it with traditional collective solidarity.”

Becker expects a similar end to the SAG-AFTRA strike within the next few weeks, though she said that entertainment executives must be wary of giving too much ground with more contract renewals on the horizon. SAG-AFTRA authorized a video game industry strike on Monday, and other actors outside of the TV/theatrical/streaming faction striking now have a deal expiring next year. In addition, the American Federation of Musicians’ contract expires in November, while IATSE’s Hollywood deal is due for renewal next year.

“One agreement sets a bar for others,” she said. “So, we’ll see if the WGA’s rising tide — infused by support from other groups — lifts all of their boats.”