After prolonged negotiations didn’t result in a new contract with the AMPTP (Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers), the Writers Guild of America declared a strike, putting to a halt any writing work for guild members. This will have a big impact in Hollywood and across the entertainment industry and could also impact the Star Trek Universe.
The WGA has been seeking changes that include how production companies and studios pay out residuals for streaming. According to the WGA, changes in the industry over the past decade have resulted in the median writer’s inflation-adjusted pay going down 23%. The writers are also concerned about a trend towards smaller writers rooms. In a statement released this morning, the WGA referred to these changes as an “existential crisis writers are facing,” explaining “We must now exert the maximum leverage possible to get a fair contract by withholding our labor.”
Picketing begins today, with a schedule for locations in Los Angeles and New York posted by the Guild; they include Paramount Global—Paramount Pictures in Hollywood and two CBS studio locations in Los Angeles. According to union rules, no WGA members are allowed to do any writing (including rewriting) or even negotiate for new writing work during the strike. Some productions will immediately shut down, such as late-night talk shows; however, other productions can continue using completed scripts. While other entertainment unions are voicing their solidarity with the WGA, all current contracts contain no-strike clauses, so no other unions will be joining them. The Teamsters Union has advised members they can honor picket lines, which is protected under contract.
Strange New Worlds writer (and WGA strike captain) Bill Wolkoff showed himself a setting up the picket line at CBS Television City in Los Angeles on Tuesday afternoon
— Bill Wolkoff (@flying_lobster) May 2, 2023
The last WGA strike ran for 14 weeks between Nov 2007 to February 2008. The J.J. Abrams 2009 Star Trek movie was filmed on the Paramount lot in Hollywood during that strike even as the studio was being picketed. A WGA strike in 1988 had a big impact on the second season of Star Trek: The Next Generation, including resulting in a shortened season.
Star Trek set to weather the strike
The strike just started, so it’s still unknown how long it will last and how much of an impact it will have on the industry. This strike comes as no surprise to the studios, who have been planning around it and banking as many scripts as possible. While the 2023 slate of Star Trek shows expected on Paramount+ won’t be impacted, there could be an impact in the future, but it depends on the project…
Little to no impact on animated shows
The WGA contract only applies to live-action and feature films, so there should be no impact on the two animated Star Trek shows. Writing for season 2 of Prodigy was completed in 2022 and writing for the fifth season of Lower Decks appears to still be underway, but both animated Star Trek shows fall under The Animation Guild (TAG) contract, which is still current. The fourth season of Lower Decks is already in post-production and is due this summer. The second season of Prodigy will debut later this year with the first 10 episodes, the second batch of ten likely arriving in 2024.
Prodigy co-executive producer Aaron Waltke showed his solidarity with WGA writers while spelling out that Prodigy is covered under the TAG contract.
Our show is covered by The Animation Guild, but we went through this last year.
Fair wages for profitable shows is always a reasonable ask. pic.twitter.com/rrLE79GGKr
— Aaron J. Waltke (@GoodAaron) May 2, 2023
Strange New Worlds season 3 could potentially shoot during strike
The WGA strike does apply to writers working on live-action Star Trek projects. Current active projects officially include the two series Strange New Worlds and Starfleet Academy, and the Section 31 TV-movie. As of today, no new writing for any of these shows can be done until a new contract is negotiated. A number of Star Trek writers have taken to social media to show their support for the strike and the WGA, like Strange New Worlds co-showrunner Henry Alonso Myers.
— Henry Alonso Myers (@alonsomyers) May 2, 2023
The strike will have no impact on the upcoming second season of Strange New Worlds, which wrapped up production last year and is set to debut on June 15. The strike affect the recently announced third season of the show, which was expected to go into production this summer. Writing began before the official announcement and it is quite possible many (if not most) of the 10 scripts for the season have been completed. Even though the Strange New Worlds writers (and all Trek TV writers rooms) are based in Los Angeles, the show is produced in Canada, so there probably won’t be any picketing at the studio. WGA members who are also producers can continue to work on shows in that capacity; modern Star Trek shows often have writer/producers on set to work with the cast and crew, so that can continue although they would not be able to make any changes to any scripts. If this on-set flexibility is important to Paramount, they could delay production until the strike ends, especially if they are also worried about additional strikes (more on that later).
Even though they may be voicing solidarity with the WGA, members of the cast would be expected to work during a strike if Paramount chose to start production anyway. The actors’ union SAG-AFTRA advised members to “continue to work” on projects that were in production during the strike. The union suggested members could walk the picket lines to show their solidarity during non-working hours. Strange New Worlds star Anson Mount showed his solidarity on social media, saying he stands with the WGA.
— Anson Mount 🖖 (@ansonmount) May 2, 2023
Discovery season 5 should still arrive in early 2024
Production on the fifth and final season of Discovery wrapped up in late 2022 and Paramount+ has set an early 2024 debut. The one wrinkle is the planned extended season finale, which will now include some additional scenes to make it work as a series finale. Like Strange New Worlds, Discovery is shot in Toronto. As the WGA strike was highly anticipated, it’s likely Paramount+ ensured a script for any new scenes was already complete to avoid any issues in case of an extended strike. The reshoots were announced two months ago and are likely already complete, and if not would likely already have been written and ready to be shot well ahead of the season 5 debut in early 2024.
Like the casts of other shows, Discovery actors are showing their support for the WGA. Anthony Rapp tweeted his solidarity earlier today.
— Anthony Rapp on Mastodon @email@example.com (@albinokid) May 2, 2023
Pencils down for Starfleet Academy
The other live-action show will feel the impact of the strike. The writers’ room for the recently announced Star Trek: Starfleet Academy series was still active, so that work will stop. Other development work could continue with WGA members working in their capacity as producers only. Production for the Academy show was set to start in Canada in early 2024, and they could potentially stick to that schedule by making up time after the strike ends unless it drags on longer than the one in 2007. In the case of a prolonged strike, the production schedule would move back, which would likely push the release, although Paramount+ has not yet set an official target anyway.
Showing her solidarity (and Trek nerdiness), Starfleet Academy writer (and voice of Mariner in Lower Decks) Tawny Newsome shared a tweet from Deep Space Nine writer Robert Hewitt Wolfe who posted an image from the workers’ rights-themed DS9 episode “Bar Association.”
— Robert Hewitt Wolfe (@writergeekrhw) May 2, 2023
Unclear impact on Section 31 movie
Another recently announced project is the Star Trek: Section 31 TV-movie event starring Michelle Yeoh, which has been in development since 2019, recently pivoting away from a series into a Paramount+ made-for-streaming TV-movie. Paramount is hoping to go into production later this year. Writer Craig Sweeny was part of the original writers’ room set up back in 2020. For a film project to get a green light, it usually requires a completed script draft, especially so it can be budgeted based on set pieces and required visual effects, so it’s likely other work on this project can continue during the strike. If the script needs rewrites or updates, that work would have to wait. However, due to Michelle Yeoh’s busy schedule, Paramount will be highly motivated to keep to their plan or risk losing the Academy Award-winning star.
Star Trek 4 feature film?
Unlike 2007, J.J. Abrams is not ready to go into production on a Star Trek movie. He has been touting the script for his fourth Trek feature film, but there is still no indication if or when Paramount Pictures will move ahead on the project, which has bigger issues to deal with than a WGA strike.
No developing new projects… like Legacy
Meetings regarding new projects are disallowed under WGA’s strike rules, which cover any new pitches for feature films or scripted television. While there wasn’t any indication Paramount+ was ready to move forward on the development of any new Trek shows, this would put a pause on any potential talks between Picard showrunner Terry Matalas and Paramount regarding a possible “Star Trek: Legacy” spin-off.
As for Matalas, he also shared his support for the strike on Twitter.
— Terry Matalas (@TerryMatalas) May 2, 2023
Things could get worse
Any short strike will have a negligible impact on Star Trek, but the longer the strike goes on, the bigger the risk to upcoming productions with Strange New Worlds season 3 the most likely to be impacted. All the studios are under pressure from Wall Street to cut costs, so getting an agreement to increase labor costs is an uphill battle. But those same studios are also reliant on a steady flow of new scripted content.
The big fear in Hollywood right now is this could be just the first of multiple strikes. The actors guild (SAG-AFTRA) and directors guild (DGA) contracts both end on June 30. Both unions have voiced their solidarity with the writers and have many of the same issues. If either of those unions goes on strike, all production would cease until new contracts could be negotiated, and that would impact production on season 3 of Strange New Worlds if Paramount goes ahead with shooting this summer. Paramount may wait to start any new productions until deals with the directors and actors are done, which could happen even before the WGA strike is resolved. If the strike goes longer, it could even interfere with the Section 31 movie as well.
This is a developing story and TrekMovie will be monitoring things so check back for updates.