Write Or Dies | Crooked Media
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May 01, 2023
What A Day
Write Or Dies

In This Episode

  • The Writer’s Guild of America, the union representing thousands of film and TV writers, has called for a strike against Hollywood studios, after both sides failed to reach an agreement on a new contract. It’s the first major work stoppage to hit the entertainment industry since the WGA’s 100-day strike of 2007-2008.
  • And in headlines: JPMorgan Chase will acquire First Republic Bank, Montana State Representative Zooey Zephyr sued over her removal from the House floor, and pilots with American Airlines have voted to authorize a strike mandate.


Show Notes:



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Erin Ryan: It’s Tuesday, May 2nd. I’m Erin Ryan. 


Tre’vell Anderson: And I’m Tre’vell Anderson. And this is What A Day where if Jared Leto and Doja Cat at the Met Gala are any indicator anthropomorphic cats are in again. 


Erin Ryan: Yes, it is a great year for pussy. [laughter] [music break] On today’s show, the U.S. could run out of cash to pay its bills sooner than expected. Plus, we have some inappropriate iceberg news from eastern Canada. 


Tre’vell Anderson: Oh, yes, very inappropriate. Stay tuned. But first, let’s get into the strike that could grind Hollywood to a screeching halt. The Writers Guild of America or WGA failed to reach a deal with the Alliance of Motion Pictures and Television Producers last night. And so as of 12:01 a.m. Pacific Standard Time this morning, it’s pencils down in Tinseltown. Erin, can you please help me understand what in the world is going on? 


Erin Ryan: Well, I will try. So I need to add a disclaimer first. I am a member of the WGA East and I write in TV. But I am speaking now as a Crooked Media host and not as a representative of the Guild leadership or the negotiating committee, neither of which I’m directly involved with. So with that out of the way, let’s get into the nuts and bolts of what’s going on. 


Tre’vell Anderson: Thank you for that disclaimer. I feel appropriately disclaimed. 


Erin Ryan: [laugh] Okay. So virtually all writers who create content for film and TV are members of the Writers Guild of America, and the Writers Guild negotiates on behalf of writers when it comes to things like weekly minimum pay, health insurance, residuals, contracts, etc., etc. The WGA contract with the AMPTP is renegotiated every three years. When things aren’t going well during those negotiations, the WGA holds a strike authorization vote, which they did a couple weeks ago. This time around, more than 97% of the Guild’s members voted to authorize a strike. 


Tre’vell Anderson: 97% is a lot of people. I also should probably note here that the producers and other content folks at Crooked have organized a bargaining unit with WGA East and are working toward their first contract, but they are not involved in this strike. So to clarify, you know, this strike only affects the subset of guild members who write for film and TV, you know, the screenwriters. So, Erin, what exactly are the writers striking over? 


Erin Ryan: Well, a lot of things. The long and short of it is that writing is no longer a way to earn a middle class income, which is a problem for people trying to earn a living writing for film and TV. It used to be that seasons of TV were like 20 or more episodes long. It would take a good portion of the year to write in a large group of people known as a writers room. And every time an episode of TV was re-aired, the writer on that episode would be paid something known as residuals. If a show ran for many seasons or went into syndication like your Frasier’s or your Simpsons, residual paychecks would provide a decent living for writers on that show for a pretty long time. I mean, if networks were going to continue to profit off writers work over and over again by selling ads against reruns, it only makes sense that the writer would get some of that money. 


Tre’vell Anderson: Absolutely. Seems very logical there. But what exactly changed? 


Erin Ryan: In a word, streaming. Now, in the streaming era, things are different and not in a good way for writers. Shows are only running seasons that are sometimes ten episodes long or fewer, which means shorter contracts. Studios are abusing what’s known as mini rooms, according to the Guild, where a small staff of writers has a very limited time to write shows. Some on the side of the writers allege this practice cuts into the quality of the finished product, while also increasing profits for studios who seem to care more about churning out content than investing the time and expense necessary to make quality content. Now all of this is happening while budgets for TV shows have gotten absolutely enormous, but writers are being cut out. Writer pay has actually dropped, while pay for high level producers and actors has gone up. Now, one of the biggest sticking points in this contract negotiation is over residuals. In the old days, writers were paid fairly well when their shows re-aired. But now, with streaming episodes are being replayed over and over again or featured on streaming services. And writers aren’t getting paid anywhere near what they made in the past. Studios are just pocketing the money. Now, this altogether means that writers are working harder for less money and going longer between jobs. Screenwriting used to be a sustainable career for most people. It’s not anymore. 


Tre’vell Anderson: Yeah, and I know it’s a long list of things that the writers are striking for. What else is there? 


Erin Ryan: Yeah. So also at issue is the use of A.I. to generate content. The Guild wants assurance that artificial intelligence won’t be used to generate scripts, but also things like rewrites, punch ups, alt lines, alt jokes, etc., etc. Anything you would need a writer for, according to the Guild should not be replaced with A.I.. 


Tre’vell Anderson: AI is popping up all over the place. I know in journalism A.I. is being used in newsrooms these days taking people’s jobs. I had a friend recently use A.I. to rewrite their bio for themselves. Um. So, you know, taking a whole lot of writers jobs, A.I. has the potential to do. So what happens now, Erin? 


Erin Ryan: Okay, so as we’re recording this, we’re a few hours from the contract expiring, but once the contract expires and a strike has been authorized, like you said at the top of the show, it’s pencils down. This impacts every WGA member who’s involved in any screenwriting at all steps of the process and also other people who might do screenwriting. So I’m in the WGA East. This impacts me. Like a lot of writers, I’m working on a couple of projects. I’m developing a couple of things. Once the strike starts, I can’t work on them anymore, so that means I can’t write on them, obviously. But it also means I can’t take meetings. I can’t call someone up and discuss the project with them that I’ve been working on them with. I can’t have my agents negotiate for projects for me. I can’t receive notes. I can’t do any rewrites, no on set punch ups, no writing activities of any kind. 


Tre’vell Anderson: Wow. Okay, so then for those of us who aren’t the writers, where are we going to see kind of the impact of this strike happen first? 


Erin Ryan: Sure. So you’ll see it on topical shows like The Daily Show, The Tonight Show, SNL, etc., right away. Because, you know, they can’t really write a show for like this weekend if they don’t have any writers. Other shows have a bigger lag between being written and being aired. But anything that’s already been shot or that is in the process of being shot and doesn’t require the services of writers in any way whatsoever can continue toward being released. So anything that’s in the can, you know, or being edited or anything like that, that can still be released. But stuff that’s in the process of being written will stop unless all of these issues are resolved. I should mention that writers are far from the only people who are exploited in the entertainment industry. Production assistants, crew members, people who work on visual effects and others have brought up concerns about low pay and long hours, and other unions within Hollywood have expressed solidarity with the WGA, too. So this isn’t just a problem with writers being exploited. A lot of people are being exploited across the industry. 


Tre’vell Anderson: Yeah, and you mentioned 97% authorized approval rate, but what’s stopping people from breaking the strike, crossing the picket line, as it were?  


Erin Ryan: Mm hmm. Yeah. You can get in big trouble. [laughing] Uh. Long story short, if you get caught scabbing, if you’re breaking the picket line, you can get banned from the Guild, Which means like you won’t work in this town again, at least as a writer. So you probably don’t want to do that. Doesn’t seem like uh it’s a worthwhile risk. But studios will still try to get around the strike by producing content regardless that doesn’t require WGA members like they can license international shows. They can produce more reality TV. But there have been rumblings recently that reality TV employees may be making moves to organize themselves, which would be a huge step in promoting fairness in an industry that is so often unfair to the people creating the content that’s making all the money. 


Tre’vell Anderson: Yeah, and I feel like I have heard people say that like the last writers strike kind of led to or like opened up the gates for that golden era of reality TV that we all now refer to. Is that potential happening here? 


Erin Ryan: Well, reality TV was pretty popular before the 2007-2008 writers strike, which is the last time something like this happened. Um. You know, we already had Survivor. We already had really popular game shows like Who Wants to Be a Millionaire. I think American Idol was already on TV, but the strike definitely left a vacuum to create more content in the place of scripted stuff. So during that strike, we got The Apprentice, which as we all know with the benefit of hindsight, it’s kind of the reason we ever ended up with President Donald Trump. So here’s hoping the butterfly effect doesn’t do us so dirty this time. 


Tre’vell Anderson: Listen, I’m going to put in an extra prayer just in case, because we don’t want that. And just to reiterate, we’re recording this show a few hours before the contract expires. So there are still a lot of unknowns at this point. We will definitely keep an eye on how all of this plays out, but that’s the latest for now. We’ll be back after some ads. [music break]. 




Erin Ryan: Let’s get to some headlines. 


[sung] Headlines. 


Erin Ryan: J.P. Morgan Chase will acquire First Republic Bank, which has now become the second largest bank to fail in the U.S. since 2008. The sale was confirmed early Monday morning hours after the San Francisco based lender was seized by federal regulators. The $10.9 billion dollar purchase will allow the financial giant to take over First Republic’s assets. But some analysts are concerned that it will make the nation’s biggest bank even bigger. And adding to these financial worries yesterday, Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen warned that the United States [laugh] could default on its loans as early as June 1st. I’m laughing because I’m scared. Unless Congress can agree to raise or suspend the national debt limit. In response, President Biden has called for a meeting with congressional leadership, including House Speaker Kevin McCarthy, on May 9th. Economists have warned that failure to raise the debt limit would lead to widespread financial catastrophe, both at home and abroad. 


Tre’vell Anderson: Montana State Representative Zooey Zephyr sued the state yesterday in a bid to allow her to return to the House floor. We told you last week that Montana Republicans voted to censure her, the state’s first openly transgender lawmaker over her opposition to a ban on gender affirming care for trans youth. Zephyr has been barred from speaking during legislative debates since April 20th, and she’s not even allowed to be on the House floor for the rest of the chamber’s legislative session, which ends on Friday. The ACLU, which is representing Zephyr, says Montana’s GOP led legislature violated her First Amendment rights by keeping her from participating in the legislative process and deprived her tens of thousands of constituents of their right to full representation. The civil rights group has also promised to challenge the gender affirming care ban that Zooey was protesting. It was signed into law last week. 


Erin Ryan: Workers from around the world took to the streets on Monday to march to celebrate May Day, also known as International Workers Day. Most notably in France, over 100,000 people turned up in the streets of Paris and clashed with riot police to once again protest the country’s newly enacted retirement policy. President Emmanuel Macron’s government signed the controversial measure into law last month, despite heavy public backlash, which raises the retirement age from 62 to 64. Since then, workers have really ramped up their protests in hopes of pressuring the government to reverse course. French police made nearly 300 arrests from the demonstrations nationwide. 


Tre’vell Anderson: American Airlines pilots overwhelmingly voted to authorize a strike mandate. The union that represents American Airlines pilots said 96% of its 15,000 members participated in the vote and 99% of them okayed a call for a strike. However, the likelihood of a walkout actually happening is pretty slim because federal law makes it hard for airline unions to do so. And Congress and the president also hold the power to prevent a work stoppage from happening should it come down to it. Still, the vote is believed to give the union more bargaining power for negotiations. In a statement released yesterday, the union’s president, Ed Sicher, said, quote, “The APA membership has spoken. We will strike, if necessary to secure the industry leading contract that our pilots have earned and deserve. A contract that will position American Airlines for success.” For their part, American Airlines believes an agreement could be reached soon. Meanwhile, American Airlines pilots also picketed at the airline’s major hubs across the country yesterday. 


Erin Ryan: Donald Trump is unfortunately returning to CNN to participate in the network’s presidential town hall next week. This will be the former president’s first appearance on CNN in years and follows several disparaging remarks he made about the network, such as which I’m sure you’ll remember. Trump calling CNN, quote, “fake news.” He also filed a lawsuit against the network last year for their use of the term The Big Lie, when referring to his false claims of voter fraud in the 2020 election, a.k.a. a big lie. The event is scheduled to take place on May 10th at Saint Anselm College in New Hampshire and will be moderated by CNN This Morning anchor Kaitlan Collins. Man, I was hoping it would be Don Lemon. [laughter] Let him go out in a blaze of glory. I would tune in to that. This just gives me some flashbacks to 2016 and a mild stomach ache. Trump, who is once again running for president in 2024, will be answering questions from Republican and undecided voters. The town hall also comes as Trump is facing, shall we say, a shit ton of legal trouble, including a civil trial happening right now in New York where the former president is accused of defaming writer E. Jean Carroll who said Trump sexually assaulted her in the mid 1990s. 


Tre’vell Anderson: And finally, a very serious story about a very serious iceberg. Canadian photographer Ken Pretty was minding his own business, photographing icebergs with his drone off the Atlantic coast when one formation in particular caught his eye. According to Pretty quote, “looking from the land, it wasn’t quite clear. But once I got the drone out there it was unreal how much it looked like well, you know.” The 30 foot iceberg floating through the sea bared a striking resemblance to, well, a human penis. [laughter] The photographer who hails from the town of Dildo. 


Erin Ryan: No, he doesn’t. 


Tre’vell Anderson: He absolutely does hail from a town that apparently is called Dildo. 


Erin Ryan: Oh. [laughter]


Tre’vell Anderson: He hails from the town of Dildo, and he came to Newfoundland’s Conception Bay– 


Erin Ryan: What? 


Tre’vell Anderson: –to capture images of Canada’s annual springtime iceberg migration as massive hunks from Greenland’s [laughter] ice shelf fall and float along the country’s eastern coast. [laugh] According to the provincial government of Newfoundland and Labrador, 66 bergs are currently passing through. Sadly, a day after being photographed and posted online by Pretty, the bulbous top of the phallic shaped berg reportedly collapsed. Goodbye giant penis iceberg. Like Karl Lagerfeld to the celebrities at this year’s Met gala, you were a total dick, but we’ll remember you fondly anyway. 


Erin Ryan: Oh, and that is a giant hunk that gives new meaning to the phrase just the tip of the iceberg. [laughter]


Tre’vell Anderson: You know, I love this for nature. Okay? 


Erin Ryan: I love it, too uh and the ocean was like, is it in yet? [laughter] It’s always funny when something looks like a penis accidentally. It is always funny. And those are the headlines. [music break] That’s all for today. If you like the show, make sure you subscribe. Leave a review. Risk it all for a curiously shaped hunk of ice and tell your friends to listen. 


Tre’vell Anderson: And if you are into reading and not just how to do the opposite of Jared Leto at any given time like me, What A Day is also a nightly newsletter. Check it out and subscribe at Crooked.com/subscribe. I’m Tre’vell Anderson. 


Erin Ryan: I’m Erin Ryan. 


[spoken together] And shout out Dildo, Newfoundland.


Tre’vell Anderson: What a city name. 


Erin Ryan: I want to go. I want to visit Dildo. I think it’d be cool. 


Tre’vell Anderson: Do you think they have, like, a dildo on their like, flag? 


Erin Ryan: I think that I would be deported from Newfoundland if that was the first thing I did when I got there. Was be like, Oh, dildo. 


Tre’vell Anderson: [laughing] Probably. [music break] What A Day is a production of Crooked Media. It’s recorded and mixed by Bill Lantz. Our show’s producer is Itxy Quintanilla and Raven Yamamoto is our associate producer. Jocey Coffman is our head writer and our senior producer is Lita Martinez. Our theme music is by Colin Gilliard and Kashaka.