Photo by Aaron B./Bauer-Griffin/JC
Exclusive: For some writers and producers, enthusiasm about returning to work was dampened this week by news that their overall deals, which were suspended during the WGA strike, will be reinstated but not extended. Nowhere was this more prevalent than at Universal Studio Group, which includes Universal Television and UCP.
I’ve learned that the company has brought back all of its writing and non-writing producers, but has not extended the term of any of the deals. This does not affect major UTV/UCP producers like Dick Wolf and Seth MacFarlane, whose deals were never suspended because they worked unsuccessful shows throughout the strike. It also barely affects non-scripting producers like NBCU staple Lorne Michaels whose agreements were suspended for just two weeks.
Writers are the most affected as their deals have been suspended for the duration of the WGA’s five-month hiatus. This translates into hundreds of thousands, and in some cases, millions of dollars in profits that they won’t get without an extension, and I hear a lot of them are unhappy.
Fixed-term trades are not automatically extended following a strike-related suspension. Studios have the option to do this at their discretion in a so-called “suspension and extension” step where the length of the suspension is added at the end of the deal term.
That’s what most studios and other streaming companies did this week, making extension decisions on a case-by-case basis.
According to sources, USG has opted for a uniform policy across the portfolio, sticking to the original terms of all deals and focusing on revamping those terms that studios want to stay in business with. I heard it started about six months before the WGA strike when Universal TV and UCP began renewal talks with showrunners whose deals expire in 2023. Some deals were finalized before the writers’ strike began on May 2; The rest of the negotiations are now being completed, following the end of the strike on Wednesday.
For overall agreements expiring in 2024 and 2025, studios are expected to re-engage as their expiration date approaches with those who will be offered a renewal. A USG representative declined to comment.
While USG is the only studio to have opted for a blanket “no rollover” policy — which saves parent company NBCUniversal a significant amount of money as there will be no payments for five months under the terms of its current deals — elements of the strategy are being used by other studios.
As Deadline reported earlier this week, Warner Bros TV, which is believed to have been the first studio to send replay letters to writing and non-writing producers on Wednesday, has expanded the number of showrunners, including the biggest names, while also opting not to extend A large portion of its pending trades – up to half, I hear. According to sources, agreements expiring in 2025 and beyond are most affected, as the studio, like USG, is taking a wait-and-see approach to evaluate the talent’s performance before making a decision. I heard that in the case of WBTV, it is possible to exercise the extension option later for some deals.
Additionally, I heard that most of Sony’s reinstatement letters did not contain an extension/non-extension clause, with the studio saying these would be the subject of future conversations.
Streamers, who have mostly expanded their outfits (Amazon Studios just started sending out the bulk of their notifications, so there’s not enough information about them). Other traditional studios also handed out a slew of extensions this week but also did some picking and choosing.
Across the board, studios and streamers were not giving extensions to deals they were not planning to renew, which had expired during the strike or would expire soon.
It’s also worth noting that there were no known terminations of blanket or first-look deals during the most recent strike, which was not the case during the WGA’s 2007-2008 work stoppage.
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