It’s a paradox: Peak TV has led to more creative freedom, but lower paychecks, writers say. They are mulling the first strike in a decade.
Published April 13, 2017
LOS ANGELES—The last time Speed Weed found himself jobless, it was 2011, his wife had just given birth to triplets, and he couldn’t find work for almost a year.
But Mr. Weed wasn’t worried. A television writer and producer, he relied on residuals – payments made to creators and performers for subsequent screenings of their work – from two years of writing and producing for the police procedural “Law and Order: Special Victims Unit.”
The show reran on NBC. So the checks kept coming – long enough for him to pick up work again, first for a USA Network miniseries in 2012 and then for the CW’s superhero series “Arrow” in 2015.
“If that happened today, I wouldn’t make it,” says Weed, now the show’s co-executive producer.
That’s because times have changed in television, he says. Over the past five years, a broader range of content platforms has given viewers free reign over what to watch and when to watch it. Studios are producing more and better programming than ever: The number of scripted shows doubled – from about 200 to more than 400 – between 2009 and 2015. Netflix alone is reportedly producing 1,000 hours of original programs in 2017. Pundits call the era “peak TV.”
“It’s a great time to be in television,” says Ken Kristensen, who is currently working on a Marvel show for Netflix. “We just have to make sure that it’s a sustainable environment for writers.”