Exclusive: For some writer-producers, excitement about going to work was dampened this week by news that their overall contracts suspended during the WGA strike were being reinstated, but not extended. Nowhere is this more evident than in the Universal Studios Group, which includes Universal Television and UCB.
The company has reinstated all of its writing and non-writing producers, but has not extended the terms of any contracts, as far as I know. This does not affect mega UTV/UCP producers Dick Wolf and Seth MacFarlane, whose contracts were not suspended because they worked on non-strike shows throughout the strike. It also didn’t affect non-writing producers like NBCU staple Lorne Michaels, whose contracts were suspended for two weeks.
Writers are the most affected as their contracts are suspended for the five-month period of the WGA strike. This translates into hundreds of thousands, sometimes millions of dollars in income without an extension, and I hear many of them are not happy.
Term contracts are not automatically extended after a strike-related suspension. Studios have the option to do that in a move called “suspend & extend” at their discretion, where the length of the suspension is added to the end of the contract’s term.
That’s what most other studios and streamers are doing this week, making extension decisions on a case-by-case basis.
According to sources, USG opted for a uniform policy across the portfolio, following the original terms of all contracts, while focusing on renewals that the studios wanted to stay in business. It began six months before the WGA strike, when Universal TV and UCP began renewal talks with showrunners whose contracts expire in 2023. With the strike ending on Wednesday, the remaining negotiations are now being taken up.
For overall contracts that expire in 2024 and 2025, studios are expected to re-engage with those offered renewals closer to the expiration date. A representative for USG declined to comment.
Although USG is the only studio opting for the “no extension” mantle — saving parent NBCUniversal a significant amount of money since there will be no five-month payments under the terms of current contracts — elements of the strategy are being used. By other studios.
As Deadline reported earlier this week, Warner Bros. TV is believed to be the first studio to send restructuring letters to its writing and non-writing producers on Wednesday, extending many of its showrunners, including big names, while not opting out. To extend a significant portion of its suspended contracts — by half, I ask. According to sources, the deals, which mostly expire in 2025 and beyond, have a studio like USG taking a wait-and-see approach to assess how the talent performs before making a decision. I have heard in the case of WBTV that it is possible to use the extension option later on some contracts.
Additionally, I’ve heard that most of Sony’s restructuring letters don’t include an extension/extension clause, which the studio says will be subject to future conversations.
Streamers, for the most part, have extended their totals (Amazon Studios started sending most of its announcements, so there isn’t enough information about them). Other legacy studios have also offered multiple extensions this week, but have done some picking and choosing.
Across the board, studios and streamers aren’t offering extensions to contracts they don’t plan to renew, which have expired during the strike or will soon expire.
Also, it’s worth noting that there were no known overall or first appearance contract results during the recent strike, not during the 2007-2008 WGA strike.