The Writers Guild of America just announced that their members have voted to give the union the authority to call a strike if negotiations fail to produce a new contract. 96% of writers supported the authorization via an online vote, more than the 90% who voted for one before the last strike in 2007. The vote gives the WGA more leverage in their negotiations with the AMPTP (the group representing the studios) which begin again tomorrow after being suspended last week.
The current contract expires at midnight on May 1st. The parties have until then to agree on a new contract or a strike could begin as early as May 2nd. The AMPTP also sent out a statement saying in part “The Companies are committed to reaching a deal at the bargaining table that keeps the industry working. The 2007 Writers Strike hurt everyone.”
At issue are disputes over wages and the health care plan for the writers. The specific issues on wages laid out by the WGA focus on how TV has changed in the last decade since the last contract. TV shows now have shorter seasons and there has been a marked rise of non-broadcast network productions, especially with streaming services. Both of these issues apply to Star Trek: Discovery, which is being produced for CBS All Access and will have a thirteen episode first season.
Some of the writers for Star Trek: Discovery voiced their support for the strike authorization via Twitter when voting began last week, including Bo Yeon Kim and Sean Cochran. Supervising Producer Ted Sullivan also urged his fellow writers to vote yes.
If U R @WGAWest, remember 2 check inbox (& spam folder) 4 ballot. I urge U 2 vote YES to give the Board leverage they’re asking for
— Ted Sullivan (@karterhol) April 20, 2017
Even the Stella the Star Trek Dog account (presumably run by Nicholas Meyer) noted the importance of writers to Star Trek.
Don’t forget: if the holodeck doesn’t have someone to write the scenes, then the whole holodeck effort is pretty useless. pic.twitter.com/qwxsJf2Jgd
— Stella Star Trek Dog (@StarTrekDog) April 22, 2017
What happens to Discovery if there is a strike?
Production for the first season of Star Trek: Discovery began at the end of January and is still underway with only a few episodes shot so far. The writers have been working hard over the last few weeks in anticipation of a possible strike. Of course all that work would stop next week if the strike happens, however production on the show can continue with any scripts that have been completed. WGA members who are also producers on the show, such as showrunners Aaron Harberts and Gretchen J. Berg could continue to work on Discovery in their capacities as producers, but they would not be allowed to make any changes to scripts.
It is not known how many scripts will be completed by the deadline, but it will not be enough for a complete season. In the case of a prolonged strike, CBS will eventually run out of material to shoot. A lengthy strike (like the 1988 or 2007 strikes) could easily push the premiere for Star Trek: Discovery yet again. The potential looming strike may have been one of the reasons the head of CBS All Access was recently unwilling to commit to a premiere date for the series.
How have past strikes impacted Star Trek?
If the WGA goes on strike, it will not be the first time this has happened during the production Star Trek on TV or film. Back in 1973 the animated Star Trek series actually benefited from a WGA strike because it didn’t apply to animation. Had there not been a general writers strike they may never had been able to attract some of the better writers to pen scrips for a cartoon.
The WGA strike in 1988 lasted five months, which ended up cutting the second season of Star Trek: The Next Generation short, going from the planned 26 episodes to 22. And even with the shorter season, producers were forced to to dust off an unused script from 1970s Phase II project to be re-purposed into the first episode of the season. Luckily for them the characters of Riker and Troi were patterned after Decker and Ilia making “The Child” somewhat easier to tweak into a TNG script. The second season also premiered two weeks late, so to fill the slots Paramount produced a two-hour special The Star Trek Saga: From One Generation To The Next, which was basically a wrapper around the first airing of the original Star Trek pilot, “The Cage.”
Budget over-runs for the second season of TNG, which have been attributed to the strike, are responsible for Paramount severely cutting the budget for the final episode. This resulted in the only clip show for the franchise, the much maligned “Shades of Grey.”
The 1988 strike also occurred during the pre-production of Star Trek V: The Final Frontier and is considered on of the contributing factors for that films poor reception and box office performance.
The last WGA strike lasted three months from late 2007 into early 2008. It began right after the script for the 2009 Star Trek film was completed. Much of the film was shot during the strike which meant last-minute changes could not be made on the set, which director J.J. Abrams lamented did cause him some frustration.
TrekMovie will monitor events with the potential WGA strike as they happen and report on any updates.