Where's My TV?

Alan Cai

May 05, 2023

Turning on your favorite television network this past week may have resulted in some oddities. Many of the primetime or late-night shows Americans enjoy on a daily basis seem to have abruptly and suddenly disappeared. The temporary stall comes amid strikes led by the Writer’s Guild of America.

The Writer’s Guild of America is a joint union formed by the Writer’s Guild of America West(based in Los Angeles) and the Writer’s Guild of America East(based in New York). The two unions represent radio and television writers across the United States. Numerous large media corporations and conglomerates ranging from NBCUniversal to Netflix have been affected.

The strike is the first to occur in over 15 years and results from a breakdown in negotiations between the Writer’s Guild of America and the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers, representing the media companies. While agreements were reached regarding the establishment of script fees, earnings cap increases, and backup scripts, barrages of sticking points including salaries, pensions, health, work guarantees, and the use of artificial intelligence remain.

Media strikes are involved in some of the most notable press moments in history, the most memorable of which was the infamous 1948 Dewey Defeats Truman article. Roughly a year before the 1948 election, printers for the Chicago Tribune went on strike protesting the Taft-Hartley Act, limiting American Labor Unions' power. Newspaper staff were subsequently forced to use more time-consuming methods to print newspapers which resulted in articles being written much earlier than when they could be printed. Using information from polling and political analysts, the Chicago Tribune prematurely published a Dewey Defeats Truman headline on the cover page and distributed copies as soon as they were printed. Later, in perhaps one of the biggest electoral upsets in American history, it was revealed that incumbent president Harry Truman had defeated Governor Thomas Dewey.

The nationwide strike involves over 11,000 writers, a number coincidentally similar to the 11,359 air traffic controllers fired by President Ronald Reagan when going on strike in 1981. The 1981 strike conducted by the Professional Air Traffic Controllers Organization(PATCO) stemmed from ongoing labor disputes with the Federal Aviation Commission. The organization did have a history of instituting controversial “sickouts” which circumvented the ban on certain professions from striking by calling in sick. During the election of 1980, PATCO backed then-candidate Reagan over President Carter due to the latter’s lack of negotiating progress and the former’s promise of working with air traffic controllers to find solutions. During the first year of the Reagan presidency, PATCO made numerous aggressive demands, to which the president responded with few concessions. After a strike took effect, President Reagan ordered all strikers to return to the airport within 48 hours or face permanent termination. He subsequently fired and barred all 11,359 refusing protesters and barred them from lifetime federal service for violating the aforementioned Taft-Hartley Act.

A general strike undoubtedly complicates the situation between scriptwriters and media conglomerates in our nation. For an agreement to be reached, one side may be forced to make extreme concessions to account for damages incurred by the opposing party. With the prevalence of artificial intelligence text generators such as ChatGPT, media companies may have a larger bargaining chip than the writers may perceive.