Joy in Los Angeles as the Writers Reach a Tentative Deal

Save this storySave this storySave this storySave this story

It’s a Yom Kippur miracle! On Sunday night, after a draining five months on the picket lines, Hollywood writers reached a tentative deal with the studios. The fine print is still getting ironed out, and, once the guild’s leadership approves it, the agreement will be sent to the Writers Guild of America membership for a ratification vote. As of Monday, the W.G.A. is still officially on strike, though it is no longer holding pickets. And Hollywood is far from returning to normal: SAG-AFTRA, which represents the actors, is still on strike, meaning that production of most scripted television and movies remains on hold.

But there’s plenty to celebrate. The W.G.A. negotiating committee assured its members that the deal is “exceptional.” It reportedly made major gains on salaries, minimum staffing requirements in writers’ rooms, transparency on viewership numbers and financial rewards for shows that become hits, and guardrails on the use of artificial intelligence. Many of these issues were non-starters when the negotiations broke down, on May 1st. Writers were soon marching outside the offices of Paramount, Netflix, and Disney, buoying themselves with themed pickets (Bruce Springsteen Day!) and clever signs. When the actors joined them, in mid-July, the picket lines got bigger and starrier. In August, as Hollywood’s Hot Labor Summer wore on, the W.G.A. and the studios attempted to re-start negotiations, but the talks imploded amid leaks and mistrust.

After Labor Day came and went, the mood in Hollywood shifted—among writers I know, weary fortitude turned into a kind of panic. How long was this going to last? The studios, faced with a pallid fall season, were feeling immense pressure as well. But the fight wasn’t fading; when Drew Barrymore and Bill Maher announced that they would bring back their talk shows, sans union writers, the pushback was so loud that both retreated into the hedges. Then, last Wednesday, the two sides met again. This time, the major entertainment C.E.O.s, including Disney’s Bob Iger and Warner Bros. Discovery’s David Zaslav, made appearances. The negotiators met for five days in a row, releasing terse joint statements along the way about how they would meet again the next day. Rumors swirled, with the guild members on tenterhooks. On Sunday, the news of the deal came, and a collective cheer rang from Los Angeles.

Back in April, when the strike was looming, I spoke to a number of television writers about why the state of their profession had become so dire. One of them, Laura Jacqmin, whose credits include Epix’s “Get Shorty” and Peacock’s “Joe vs. Carole,” told me, “If we do not dig in now, there will be nothing to fight for in three years.” She added, “The word I would use is ‘desperation.’ ” After the strike was called, Jacqmin joined me on The New Yorker Radio Hour to lay out the W.G.A.’s demands, and she has spent the intervening months as a strike captain. On Monday morning, as dawn was breaking in Los Angeles, I spoke to her again. Her emotions, I could tell, were still raw. Here’s what she said:

“There’s an overwhelming feeling of relief and joy, and I think a lot of us are still processing the shock of it as well. On Thursday night, the guild e-mailed everybody and said, ‘Come out to the picket lines tomorrow. We need to see your support. It’s really important.’ And it was the first time that they’d made a specific ask like that during active bargaining. And I was pretty worn out. I’d already been out picketing two days that week. And that night I was, like, I don’t think I can do it. And then at 9 A.M. I was, like, All right, I’m going. I’m going. I gotta show up.

“In the car on the way, I was sort of thinking about, What would it be like if this was the day that the strike ended, and it happened when we were out on the picket lines? And I immediately burst into tears in my car. I couldn’t control it. And I had to stop—I had to get myself under control pretty quickly, because I was driving. I had to get on the highway. I had to get over to Amazon. But it was just—I felt overwhelmed then. And since Friday it’s just been watching the clock and checking your e-mail and checking social media and checking the news and waiting. And, now that it’s here, it’s huge. It’s huge.

“Then we were just edging this conclusion the whole week, so, you know, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, Saturday, Sunday. And every single day was: this might be the day the deal happens. This might be the day that the strike ends. It was five straight days of this exquisite torture. Yesterday, I even tweeted, I think around five-forty-five, like, There is no ‘by sundown on the fifth day’ fairy-tale rule that we have to abide by. Just a gentle reminder that any deadline that is put into the universe by the studios is a false deadline. We don’t have to abide by it. If a deal is not reached today, a deal will be reached. Maybe they’ll take off Monday. Maybe they’ll reconvene Tuesday. Just trying to put some calm into the atmosphere when that was impossible.

“And so, when it actually broke, I got the news eight minutes sooner than the general membership. Captains got an e-mail at 7:04 P.M. last night, Pacific time, from [the senior director of member organizing] Ann Farriday at the guild. And I couldn’t believe it. I couldn’t believe it. Sorry, I’m getting choked up—it’s crazy. I went to the kitchen. I hugged my boyfriend. I said, ‘Man, I’m still so riled up, but I can’t believe we’re here. I can’t believe it’s over.’ See? I’m getting emotional now, as a delayed reaction.

“Twitter was amazing last night, because everybody was posting. It’s been amazing the whole time, but everybody was just on fire. And a lot of people did go out. I was not about to drive forty minutes each way up to the Valley to go to Idle Hour [a bar where W.G.A. members celebrated], but there’s some footage on Twitter of that. I think we’re just—we’re so tired. We’re so tired. At the last captains’ meeting, which was two Mondays ago, I think, everyone was talking about how we’re all in physical therapy from repetitive stress injuries. I’ve dealt with this knee recovery. I have peroneal tendonitis in both of my ankles and calves. I was dealing with anemia in the course of the strike. I now have T.M.J. from clenching my jaw. So we’re physically exhausted, mentally exhausted, and this was such a needed release. And we’ll still be there for SAG. Almost everybody I know was instantly, like, ‘O.K., which day are we showing up for SAG this week?’ ”

Welcome to Hot Labor Fall. ♦


No votes yet.
Please wait...

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *