March 30, 2020

Streaming TV’s Boom Is a Mixed Blessing for Some Hollywood Writers

“I think they’re experimenting with the shortest product they can still call a TV series,” said Steve Conrad, the president of Elephant Pictures, a production company in Chicago. “I couldn’t keep this company together if it was fewer than eight, and it’s coming.”

In addition to shortening season lengths, the streaming platforms have ignored the school-year-style calendar of television’s network days, with its premieres in the weeks after Labor Day and finales late in the spring. Netflix has served up new seasons of its most-watched program, “Stranger Things,” in July. Apple TV Plus unveiled one of its most-hyped shows, “Little America,” in the middle of January.

The rise of streaming has fattened the wallets of superstar writer-producers like Shonda Rhimes and Ryan Murphy, while also giving chances to unproven writers. But the medium’s shorter seasons and unpredictable cadences have made it harder for writers in Hollywood’s middle class to plot out a year’s work in a way that doesn’t leave them nervous when mortgage payments are due.

Complicating the issue is that streaming platforms have been known to take more time to make an episode than their network and cable counterparts. For many writers, that meant less money for more hours, and they complained to their union representatives.

“Five years ago, it grew from an isolated problem to a dominant problem,” said Chuck Slocum, the assistant executive director of the Writers Guild of America, West. “We had half of our members wake up and realize one day that they’re making half the money that they were making.”

The union worked out some protections for its members. Since 2018, studios are sometimes required to pay writers extra when filming runs longer than expected.

That change kicked in too late to help Lila Byock, a writer whose credits include HBO’s “The Leftovers” and Hulu’s “Castle Rock.” She said she was hired on a scripted series that she figured would last 10 months. Instead, it took nearly 18 months, which caused her to pass on other writing jobs.

Article source: https://www.nytimes.com/2020/02/23/business/media/hollywood-writers-streaming-netflix-amazon-hulu.html

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