Late last night, the Writers Guild of America and the Association of Motion Picture and Television Producers reached a hard-won agreement that addresses the needs of television writers, narrowly averting what would have been the second major writer's strike in a decade. 

The process of negotiations has been touch and go since they began on March 13. The deal comes a full day past the strike authorization deadline. Had no agreement been reached—and it was close—Hollywood might have suffered a massive economic, not to mention creative, blow, costing upwards of $200 million per week and driving audiences off cable channels and onto digital platforms in the absence of new content. The previous writer's strike, in 2007, saw a 100-day walkout over compensation for digitally distributed shows and cost the Los Angeles economy an estimated $2 billion.

Studios have thrown TV writers under the bus in order to pay for longer, more cinematic productions.

As we explained in detail on the No Film School podcast, the negotiations centered around a revised health care plan and fair pay for shorter seasons with longer episodes, otherwise known as "span." Seasons now consist of 10 or fewer episodes on cable and streaming, which is less than half the length of traditional seasons on network shows. And contracts haven't changed to accommodate the shifting landscape. Because writers sign exclusivity clauses, they can’t work on two shows in one season, which means that writers are doing more work for less money overall. Also, now that reruns are off the table, writers have lost another reliable source of income. From the WGA's perspective, studios have thrown TV writers under the bus in order to pay for longer, more cinematic productions.

After WGA members voted nearly unanimously to authorize a strike last month, a negotiation committee led by union reps and acclaimed TV writers such as David Shore (House), Jonathan Nolan (Westworld), Damon Lindelof (Lost), and Beau Willimon (House of Cards) demanded concessions from the studios. The resulting three-year contract sees $130 million in gains for the WGA with a 15% increase in "Pay TV" residuals, roughly $15 million in increases in "High-Budget SVOD" residuals, and, for the first time ever, residuals for comedy-variety writers as well as job protection on parental leave. The WGA also broke ground on the "span" issue, winning a revised contract of 2.4 weeks for work for each episodic fee, with strict compensation for overtime. As for the healthcare plan, the WGA conceded to cost-saving changes, while the studios agreed to a bailout.

According to the Hollywood Reporter, some issues are still on the table. The WGA is still interested in securing script parity for its writers, which would ensure that scripts for all platforms are subject to the same wage floors, regardless of the production budget. The union also hopes to land major salary increases for many categories of writers.

While the provisional contract is a major victory for the WGA in the short term, the future of television writing still hangs in the balance.

Featured image: Flickr, via Davide Gabino, with Creative Commons license