Writers set to strike, threatening TV production

Last week film and TV programming writers announced they were ready to begin their first industry-wide strike in two decades. A strike would shut down a wide range of network TV production.

The writers, who have suffered in recent years due to nonunion reality television and the rise of new media outlets, are united against production studios and TV networks owned by the likes of General Electric and News Corp. The writers want an increase in their residuals payments for the reuse of movies and TV shows on DVDs, and new payments for the distribution of their works on the Internet, cell phones and other media devices.

The production companies have refused to increase the DVD payments or expand payments for electronic distribution. They argue that industry economics are still shifting and are uncertain for the future.

A strike would immediately shut down major topical TV shows like “Late Night With David Letterman” and “The Daily Show With Jon Stewart,” which rely on union writers for monologues and skits. Over time, as existing scripts are used, the shutdown would extend to soap operas, TV series and film productions.

Similar issues are on the table for directors and actors, whose contracts expire next summer. “I’m afraid that everybody’s in for a terrible time,” Norman Lear, a major writer and producer, told the “New York Times.”