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Everything You Need to Know About the Potential TV Writers' Strike

Be informed before TV comes to a halt

Tim Surette

Television executives and television writers -- heck, everyone in the television industry -- are biting their fingernails down to nubs as a new writers' strike looms over the entertainment industry. The last strike, which started in November 2007, devastated television as writers walked the picket lines when their demands were not met by studios.

With a potential walkout just over a week away, you probably have questions about the strike, so we have answers. Here's everything you need to know.

Who is striking?

The Writers Guild of America (WGA) is. The WGA is the joint effort of the Writers Guild of America, East and Writers Guild of America, West, which are labor unions that represent film and television writers. Pretty much every show on television has writers, and they're almost universally represented by -- and beholden to -- the WGA.

The WGA will be asking the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers -- a collection of more than 350 production companies of television and movies -- to restructure the current contract system to account for the changes television has undergone and the effects the changes have had on their existing contracts.

Why are the writers threatening to strike?

By now you've noticed that television shows are sprouting up constantly and in unexpected places -- networks like Nat Geo and E! have gotten into the scripted-TV game -- which means SO MANY SHOWS. And as cable and streaming outlets have become the most fertile ground for new series, the standards of television have changed dramatically. Series with 10 to 13 episodes (or even less) are more commonplace, while the classic run of 22 or 24 episodes made popular by broadcast networks has diminished. And with the rise of anthologies, miniseries and TV events, episode counts are shortening even more.

The problem here? Writers typically get paid per episode under their current contracts, which made sense when television seasons were longer. While there are more writing jobs are out there, the average take-home for the jobs is far less than it used to be if a writer was staffed on a show. And with some contracts exclusive to a specific show, many writers aren't allowed to take another writing job to compensate. This is all happening while many studios are pulling in record amounts of profits. The writers want a share of that pie.

The previously arranged health care plan is also in trouble, and restructuring it will be part of the new negotiations, as will protection for the current pension plan and discussions for personal and family leave.

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When would the strike start?

Writers voted on Monday to authorize a strike (and it passed with an overwhelming 96 percent of the vote), a major step towards a work stoppage, but that doesn't mean one will definitely happen. It just gives the guild the permission to call a strike. The current contract expires on May 1, and if a new deal that both sides can agree to isn't reached by then, the WGA will likely move forward with the strike on May 2.

What shows would be affected?

Almost all of television will be affected. Right off the bat, the biggest changes will hit late-night television, which uses writers daily for monologues, timely skits, and more late-night material that air that same night. Scripted shows have a bit more leeway thanks to episodes written weeks, sometimes months in advance, and production can continue on with the show for the scripts that have already been written. But if the strike persists, shows will go dark once they pass the backlog of completed scripts. Reality shows, which flourished during the 2007 writers strike, will likely proceed as normal, though some reality-television writers are also trying to renegotiate contracts separately. Some reality programs will also see extended seasons as scripted shows go off the air, and primetime game shows, such as ABC's The Match Game, could pop up all over the schedule.

How long could the strike last?

Well, it all depends on how the two sides negotiate. But if we're looking at recent history, the 2007 strike lasted more than three months and saw many shows cut their seasons short.