A Brief History of Television Writers: 1949-1979, Part 4


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The television industry is heavily unionized. Nearly every person involved with the production of a television program is part of a union, including writers. When broadcast television first began in the late 1940s, it was little more than a combination of radio and theater performed in front of a camera. As the medium grew in popularity, the stories became more intricate and in order to gain the recognition they rightly deserved, television writers began to unionize. It was a long and drawn-out battle, one that took over a decade and even then had to be fought each time a contract was up for renegotiation.

A Period of (Relative) Stability

After so many months of striking and negotiating, and with brand new contracts in hand, following the 1959-1960 strike(s) were several years in which television writers were content with what they were being paid. In early April 1963, however, the Guild began a fresh round of contract negotiations with the networks, extending their current contract past its expiration date. In the face of another possible strike from the Guild, the networks offered up an agreement at the end of April. The Guild also threatened to strike when its contract with producers was set to expire. A strike was authorized in early December but averted when a new three-year contract was signed on December 15th [102, 103, 104, 105].

Three years later, in June 1966, the Guild threatened to strike against television producers, ironically asking to return to the residual payment system they had argued against when on strike in 1960. A week later, the strike was averted, a new three-year contract was signed, and the writers got their residuals. Another strike, this one with film producers, was averted in December 1966 [106, 107, 108]. In October 1968, the Guild threatened to strike against the television networks but negotiations led to a new three-year contract in late October [109, 110]. Another strike almost occurred in June 1970 but was averted [111].

The 1973 Strike

On March 6th, 1973, the Writers Guild went on strike against the Association of Motion Picture and Television Producers. All in the Family star Carroll O’Connor — a member of the Writers Guild of America, West — was among those walking picket lines. The strike was only against filmed television and negotiations continued with the television networks. The Guild wanted to increase the going rate for a one-hour filmed show from $4,500 to $12,000. The producers were not all that concerned, because the Guild chose to strike at a time when the current season’s scripts were completed and scripts for the following season were not due until months later [112, 113]. In mid-April the strike was extended to “live” (talk shows) and “video” (soap operas) network television programs [114].

Fresh negotiations began on May 30th, but the networks were already being forced to push back the start of the new fall season. Additionally, the Directors Guild of America announced it supported the strike and the possibility of a joint strike became very real. The Writers Guild was seeking “1.2 per cent of gross income” from pay and cable TV plus the sales of video cassettes for both new films and films made after 1953. The producers felt these new markets were hardly large enough to allow for any income to be split between multiple groups [115].

The strike against the Association of Motion Picture and Television Producers was announced on June 21st and formerly ended on the 24th with the signing of a new contract to last through March 1977. It included incremental salary increases and residuals for cassettes and pay-TV. Reports of dissension within the Writers Guild — with screenwriters wanting their own branch and writer-producers wanting more say — were denied by Guild representatives. The strike against involving writers for “live” or “video” television was settled in July. However, NBC was forced to delay portions of its fall schedule up to three weeks due to the strike, while CBS and ABC each had to delay a handful of new shows [116, 117, 118, 119].

The Last Years of Network Dominance & The 1980s

After the 1973 strike, things were relatively calm in the television writing industry. In February 1975 the Guild came to an agreement regarding wages as part of a four-year contract that ended March 1st, 1977 [120]. When that contract expired, the Guild successfully negotiated a new three-year contract with the networks, the Association of Motion Picture and Television Producers and several independent producers, including Paramount and Universal. Minimum payments for television and film scripts were raised and writers were to be given payments for “in-season” reruns of episodes from their scripts. However, the Guild had earlier dropped a demand for a “a limit on the amount of rewriting of original material” and “a prohibition on rewriting by nonmembers of the guild, such as actors and directors” [121].

In June 1978, the Supreme Court ruled that “it is an unfair labor practice for a union to discipline members whose jobs involve some supervisory duties and who cross picket lines in a strike to perform those duties.” The case stemmed from the 1973 strike when the Guild attempted to fine roughly 30 writer-producers for crossing picket lines. The Supreme Court ruling reversed a Federal court ruling on appeal from the Guild after the National Labor Relations Board ruled that the Guild did not have the authority to discipline writer-producers [122].

As the 1970s came to an end, so too did the era of utter domination of television by the “Big Three” networks. As the 1973 strike proved, the television industry was changing and new markets (cable and home video) were opening. During the 1980s, with the rise of cable, the home video market, recording of broadcast television and the emergence of the FOX network, the “Big Three” began to lose their grip on television. The Writers Guild of America wanted its share of the new revenues and would go on strike three times during the decade: in 1981, 1985 and 1988.

Part One | Part Two | Part Three | Part Four

Works Cited:

102 Adams, Val. “Guild Negotiates with 3 Networks.” New York Times. 11 Apr. 1963: 51.
103 “Networks Offer Pact to Writers.” New York Times. 30 Apr. 1963: 54.
104 Schumach, Murray. “Strike Approved by Film Writers.” New York Times. 7 Dec. 1963: 26.
105 “Film Writers and Producers Agreed on 3-Year Contract.” New York Times. 16 Dec. 1963: 40.
106 Bart, Peter. “Writers For TV Threaten Strike.” New York Times. 3 Jun. 1966: 60.
107 Bart, Peter. “Accord on Coast Averts TV Strike.” New York Times. 16 Jun. 1966: 95.
108 “Writers and Film Studios in Accord; Strike Averted.” New York Times. 14 Dec. 1966: 56.
109 Windeler, Robert. “Writers Guild and 3 Networks In Talks After Strike Deadline.” New York Times. 1 Oct. 1968: 94.
110 “TV News Writers Accept 3-Year Pact With Networks.” New York Times. 18 Oct. 1968: 95.
111 “Hollywood Writers Authorize Strike.” New York Times. 20 Jun. 1970: 22.
112 “Writers Go On Strike Against TV Producers, Motion Picture Firms.” Wall Street Journal. 7 Mar. 1973: 4.
113 “Writers Guild Strikes Major Producers on Coast; Union Seeks Almost Fourfold Increase in Wages.” New York Times. 7 Mar. 1973: 35.
114 Krebs, Albin. “Networks Struck By Writers Guild.” New York Times. 13 Apr. 1973: 79.
115 Farber, Stephen. “Directors Back Writers; TV Season Delay Looms.” New York Times. 31 May 1973: 51.
116 “Writers Guild Ends A 16-Week Walkabout Against Producers.” New York Times. 25 Jun. 1973: 47.
117 Farber, Stephen. “Rift Remains After Strike by Writers.” New York Times. 30 Jun. 1973: 67.
118 “Holdouts Reach Accord in Strike of Writers Guild.” New York Times. 6 Jul. 1973: 52.
119 “RCA Corp.’s NBC-TV To Delay About Half Of Prime-Time TV.” Wall Street Journal. 23 Jul. 1973: 14.
120 “Writers Guild East In Accord With TV.” New York Times. 20 Feb. 1975: 67.
121 “Writers Approve Pacts With the Networks, Movie, TV Producers.” Wall Street Journal. 3 Mar. 1977: 11.
122 Greenhouse, Linda. “Murder Site is No Exception to the Need for a Search Warrant.” New York Times. 22 Jun. 1978: A19.

Originally Published November 5th, 2007
Last Updated March 7th, 2013



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