opinion |  Can the writers' strike fix Hollywood?

Here’s my attempt to summarize the context of the Hollywood writers’ strike in three sentences. First, the entertainment business, fueled by easy money and emboldened by the unusual conditions of the Covid-era, committed to unsustainable expansion – the grand streaming experiment where every major brand would have its own Netflix.

Then, when it became apparent that this growth was unsustainable, studios and streamers began squeezing more and more out of their writers, with longer and less predictable hours, and with fewer long-term rewards, even as corporate lawsuits hopefully rely on AI to eliminate certain writing duties.

This context makes the authors’ demands appear reasonable and just, but it also means that the striking scribes could lose and win at the same time — Pay and hour concessions as a prelude to a major decline, a collapse in the number of scripted series that Hollywood is putting out.

The question for those of us who watch TV shows and films and write about them rather than create them is what this conflict means for the art that justifies all these commercial struggles.

One narrative sees the strike as an opportunity to rethink the broader Hollywood trajectory, particularly the Marvel-era fixation on franchises, reboots and “pre-sold” storytelling, which is variously attributed to a profit-seeking venture-capital mindset grasp in Hollywood or the effects of consolidation in the film business. Against this background, the monopoly critic expresses himself Matt Stoller argues that the goal of the strikers should be to find allies for big, structural changes – breaking up the vertically integrated corporate giants, re-separating production and distribution, and thereby making the mid-budget film alchemy more competitive with the superhero sweatshop .

A slightly more pessimistic analysis offered by authors such as Sonny Bunch And Jessa Crispin, emphasizes that the superhero sweatshop’s corporate strategy has evolved because it gives the audience what it wants. People buy tickets for comic book movies and Super Mario, Bunch points out, not Air or The Last Duel. The fan culture that supports these projects, Crispin argues, often seems to prefer their writers to be replaceable cogs in a content machine. And even if the strike is an opportunity for rethinking, it is unlikely to be a lever that can change the system as a whole.

I personally would How to see the strike launch a different Hollywood system. But I would settle for a return to That was about a decade ago, before the streaming boom — when the downsides of the special effects franchise era in cinema were partially offset by the advent of richer, deeper, and more ambitious television.

My viewers’ take on what’s happened since is that the streaming expansion initially delivered a welcome excess of small-screen ambition, but then increasingly felt that creative talent was being spread too thinly, being worked too hard became or both.

Sometimes TV’s peak shows start off brilliantly, but then struggle to maintain momentum even into a second season. (HBO’s “Westworld” or, more recently, Showtime’s “Yellowjackets,” for example.) At times, they seem like flimsy imitations of the anti-hero dramas of the last decade. (Like Netflix’s Ozark.) Or they take on the character of a cinematic experience, but a little worse—with too big to fail franchises that nobody really enjoys. (“Obi-Wan Kenobi,” say, or “Rings of Power.”) Or they’re asking too much of a talented showrunner who pays more and more to deliver a suite of content instead of focusing on a single story . (The development of Taylor Sheridan’s “Yellowstone” and its disappointing follow-up series fill that bill.)

In theory, the strike and follow-up scenario I outlined above – in which the writers achieve better working conditions and higher wages, but then total broadcast deals fall as streaming platforms collapse or merge – could also provide a solution to this spread-thin Problem. A world could emerge where writers’ talents are better rewarded and more focused, where showrunners don’t have as many opportunities to build empires but the shows they make are better suited to it. Obviously this is not the outcome the union is hoping for as it would mean fewer typing jobs. But for the viewer, a world with a little fewer shows could also be a world with better ones.

The bleaker scenario, however, is that a drop in streaming could coincide with increased imitation of the franchise model on big screen TV. If that were the case, we could always get more blockbuster television as a seemingly safe but uncreative bet while losing some of the fortuitous experimentation of top television — like the serendipitous fluke of The White Lotus, whose resort drama came about in this film in isolation during Covid, or the brilliance of Andor, a generic Star Wars show, or Baby Yoda.

If originality is important to you, here’s the real loser-win scenario for this strike: writers end up having a fairer share of an industry that’s moving further away from creativity.

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