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Writers Guild and studio bigwigs make progress to end strike — but don’t expect filming to resume

<i>Mario Tama/Getty Images</i><br/>Striking WGA (Writers Guild of America) members picket with striking SAG-AFTRA members outside Paramount Studios on September 18 in Los Angeles
Mario Tama/Getty Images
Striking WGA (Writers Guild of America) members picket with striking SAG-AFTRA members outside Paramount Studios on September 18 in Los Angeles

By Chris Isidore, CNN

New York (CNN) — The negotiators for the Writers Guild of America and heads of major media companies are set to return to the table after a productive day of talks Wednesday. But filming of movies and shows still wouldn’t be able to resume unless the union representing actors also reaches a deal.

The bosses of four major companies — Warner Bros. Discovery CEO David Zaslav, Disney CEO Bob Iger, Netflix co-CEO Ted Sarandos and NBCUniversal studio chairman Donna Langley — joined negotiations with WGA, which represents more than 11,000 writers. Afterwards the union the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers, which represents management, issued a rare joint statement. While it only disclosed the second day of talks, a person familiar with the matter told CNN that the Wednesday talks left attendees “feeling encouraged.”

Even should a tentative deal be reached, it would still need to be ratified by rank-and-file members before it could go into effect. And even after that, without an agreement with SAG-AFTRA, which represents about 160,000 actors, an end to the WGA strike by itself wouldn’t do much to resume halted productions.

The WGA went on strike May 2 with the work stoppage reaching its 143rd day on Thursday, putting it within two weeks of the longest strike in the union’s history, which lasted 154 days in 1988. Many productions had halted even before SAG-AFTRA joined the WGA on strike July 14.

Both sides have similar sets of demands, including better wages, residuals payments from streaming services for their work, and job protections against the use of artificial intelligence.

The two unions have been in close communication since before either strike began and have frequently issued statements of support for one another. The union that remains on strike could find itself pressured to agree to its own deal along the lines of whatever agreement is reached by the first union to settle, although SAG-AFTRA has enough leverage to keep productions shutdown.

There could be a return of some talk shows, both daytime and late night, with just an agreement by WGA.

Recently some shows, most notably “Real Time with Bill Maher,” “The Drew Barrymore Show” and “The Talk” paused plans to return to the air after a backlash while the writers strike continues.

“My decision to return to work was made when it seemed nothing was happening and there was no end in sight to this strike,” wrote Maher Monday on X, the platform formerly known as Twitter. “Now that both sides have agreed to go back to the negotiating table I’m going to delay the return of Real Time, for now, and hope they can finally get this done.”

Late-night shows, including “Saturday Night Live,” were among the first shows that stopped producing new programs when the writers strike started in May. But who appears on those shows should they return before the end of the actors strike is unclear. SAG-AFTRA members are prohibited by union rules from promoting their films and shows while on strike.

The work stoppage has been costly, especially to the economies in Southern California and New York. The strike has cost more than $5 billion already, according to estimates. While the studios and streaming services initially may have benefited from not having to pay for productions while still being able to bring in cash from movie tickets and sales of shows that had been completed before the strike, their bottom lines are starting to be affected as well. Warner Bros. Discovery, owner of CNN, reported to investors that now that the strike has stretched into the fall it expects the it will cost the company up to $500 million by the end of the year.

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