The Year in Entertainment 2023: Hollywood’s year of the strike

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Arguably, the biggest story of the year in Hollywood was what the entertainment industry wasn’t making.

For the first time since 1960, the Writers Guild of America and the Screen Actors Guild-American Federation of Television and Radio Artists went on strike in 2023, and the protracted work stoppages meant production on movies and TV shows grounded to a halt, as members of both unions hit the picket lines.

The two unions shared common concerns in their fights against the allied studios: the need for increased compensation in the age of streaming, and curbs against the use of artificial intelligence to replace both union writers and performers.

The WGA strike struck first: At 12:01 a.m. PT on May 2, writers picked up picket signs instead of pens, in many cases joined by SAG-AFTRA performers who hadn’t yet struck but were showing solidarity.

Late night shows were affected first. With no writers for those monologues and other content, the shows moved to repeats.

Following a tentative agreement between the studios and the union’s negotiators, the WGA strike was declared over on September 27.

They were the first to stop work, and the late night shows became the first to return; scripted shows’ writers rooms filled back up, and screenwriters were free to get back behind their keyboards.

The SAG-AFTRA strike went into effect July 14, and work on movies including Deadpool 3 and Gladiator 2, as well as countless TV shows, stopped, as did celebrities’ promotion of their projects.

In fact, the strike’s effects were seen firsthand in real time, when the cast of Oppenheimer, including Matt Damon, Robert Downey Jr. and Emily Blunt, walked off the London red carpet of their own premiere the second word got out that the strike was declared back in the States.

Months of picketing followed, as did a star-making performance from Fran Drescher: The former Nanny star turned SAG-AFTRA president was hailed as a champion of her fellow actors. “We cannot go back to the way things were,” she declared at a strike event in New York City in August. “Too much has changed. They have to wake up and smell the coffee!” she continued.

In the end, Drescher and SAG-AFTRA negotiators hammered out a three-year deal with the studios’ representatives, securing new compensation, health care and AI guidelines. A tentative agreement was reached on November 9, after 114 days of striking.

The cameras started rolling again nearly immediately.

The three-year agreement was ratified on December 5, with its protections effective retroactively to November 9 — the day the agreement was reached — and expiring June 30, 2026.

All told, it is estimated that the twin strikes caused an estimated $6 billion in economic damage; hundreds of thousands of people were left out of work, from actors to caterers and other ancillary industries that rely on movie and TV production.

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