Screenwriter deal puts actors in light

Focus now on getting next agreement

Hollywood's actors are back in the spotlight.

With screenwriters reaching a tentative agreement with the major entertainment studios on a new labor deal on Sunday night, one big obstacle stands in the way of the film and TV industry roaring back to life: ending the strike with tens of thousands of actors.

The two sides have not spoken in more than two months, and no talks are scheduled.

Leaders of SAG-AFTRA, the actors union, have indicated a willingness to negotiate, but the studios made a strategic decision in early August to focus on reaching a detente with the writers first. A big reason was the rhetoric of Fran Drescher, the president of the actors union, who made one fiery speech after the next early in the strike, including one in which she denounced studio executives as "land barons of a medieval time."

Drescher has been less vocal in recent weeks, however. Only a resolution with the actors will determine when tens of thousands of workers -- including camera operators, makeup artists, prop makers, set dressers, lighting technicians, hairstylists, cinematographers -- return to work.

The actors union offered congratulations to the Writers Guild of America, which represents more than 11,000 screenwriters, in a statement Sunday night, adding that it was eager to review the tentative agreement with the studios.

"We remain on strike in our TV/Theatrical contract and continue to urge the studio and streamer CEOs ... to return to the table and make the fair deal that our members deserve and demand," SAG said.

It has been 74 days since the actors union and representatives of the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers, which bargains on behalf of the studios, have talked. That will probably soon change given the high stakes of salvaging the 2024 theatrical box office.

The cost of this year's labor work stoppage, now at five months, will be in the billions of dollars -- and far above the $2 billion estimate from the three-month strike that hit the industry in 2007.

The combined market value of Disney, Warner Bros. Discovery and Paramount Global, three major studios, has fallen by about $50 billion since early May, with Disney accounting for three-fourths of that loss.

The TV and film industry took a meaningful step toward stabilization Sunday night, though, with the tentative deal between the writers and studios all but ending a 146-day strike.

The deal still needs to be approved by union leadership and ratified by rank-and-file screenwriters in the coming days. Both are expected to happen. Although the fine print of the terms has not been released, the agreement has much of what the writers had demanded, including increases in compensation for streaming content, concessions from studios on minimum staffing for television shows and guarantees that artificial intelligence technology will not encroach on writers' credits and compensation.

The momentum from the screenwriters agreement should help resolve the actors strike quickly, according to Alex DeGroote, a media analyst in London. Even so, it will take time before big-budget shows and movies resume production, he said.

"The world's movie theatres can celebrate," AMC Entertainment Chief Executive Officer Adam Aron said on X, formerly Twitter. "Extremely good news that progress is being made."

Once the screenwriters contract is approved, work will resume more quickly for some writers than others. Late-night talk shows were the first to be affected when the strike began, and they may be among the first to return to air now. NBC's "The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon," ABC's "Jimmy Kimmel Live" and "The Late Show With Stephen Colbert" on CBS could come back within days.

"Saturday Night Live" might be able to return for its 49th season, though some actors may not be able to appear. The actors strike limits promotional appearances that are the lifeblood of late-night shows.

Shows that return while actors are still picketing could prove controversial, as happened with the planned resumptions of daytime shows including "The Drew Barrymore Show" and "The Talk." Those plans were later abandoned.

One show that's likely to make a speedy return? "Real Time with Bill Maher." The host plotted a return without writers but ended up postponing once last week's negotiations were set.

Writers rooms for scripted shows that shut down at the strike's onset, including Netflix's "Stranger Things," "Severance" on Apple TV+ and "Abbott Elementary" on ABC are also likely to reactivate quickly. But with no performers to act out the scripts, long delays between page and screen will be inevitable.

Film writers will also get back to work on their slower timeline, though those working on scripts or late revisions for already scheduled movies -- including "Deadpool 3" and "Superman: Legacy" -- will certainly be hustling to avoid further release-date delays.

Director Quentin Tarantino's 10th film, "The Movie Critic," is among the scripts that are written whose makers are awaiting actors' return to sets.

Barrymore's planned return to her daytime television show became a rallying point for picketers earlier this month, prompting her to cancel her plans. "The Talk" and "The Jennifer Hudson Show," which also employ some screenwriters, also called off plans to return.

Barrymore and the other shows have not announced their plans for returning. However, the Writers Guild of America has made it clear: Guild members cannot start working again on projects until the tentative contract is ratified.

That vote has not yet been scheduled.

Information for this article was contributed by John Koblin and Nicole Sperling of The New York Times, and Andrew Dalton of The Associated Press and Lucas Shaw of Bloomberg News (WPNS).