Hollywood, Both Frantic and Calm, Braces for Writers’ Strike

Though there’s plenty of uncertainty in TV circles, there are also segments of Hollywood where it has been business as usual.

Executives at streaming services seemed to exhibit what one senior William Morris Endeavor agent called a “frightening, freakish sense of calm,” perhaps because they were betting that any strike would be short. Most streaming services have been under pressure to cut costs — even deep-pocketed Amazon Studios laid off 100 people on Thursday — and a strike is one quick way to do that: Spending would plummet as production slowed.

“It could lead to notably better-than-expected streaming profitability,” Rich Greenfield, a founder of the LightShed Partners research firm, wrote to investors this month.

At several movie studios, there is little sense of alarm, partly because a strike would have almost no impact on the release schedule until next spring. (The movie business works nearly a year in advance.) One movie agent said everyone in her orbit was preparing for the Cannes Film Festival, which begins on May 16 and will include premieres for films like “Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny” and “Killers of the Flower Moon,” the latest from Martin Scorsese. Many movie executives were also preoccupied with CinemaCon this week, a convention for theater operators in Las Vegas.

“The writers’ process is like 18 months to two years away from movies’ hitting our cinemas, generally, so you wouldn’t see an impact for quite a while,” said John Fithian, the departing chief executive of the National Association of Theater Owners. “There is a whole lot of writing already in the can — or the computer — for projects the studios are putting into production.”

At the Walt Disney Company, the largest supplier of union-covered TV dramas and comedies (890 episodes for the 2021-22 season), more immediate worries have been the focus. Disney began to hand out thousands of pink slips on Monday as part of an unrelated plan to eliminate 7,000 jobs worldwide by the end of June. The company made news again on Wednesday when it sued Gov. Ron DeSantis of Florida.

During previous union walkouts, television networks ordered more reality programming, which does not fall under the writers’ unions jurisdiction. The long-running “Cops” was ordered during the 1988 strike, while the 2007-8 strike helped supercharge shows like “The Celebrity Apprentice” and “The Biggest Loser.”

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