Studios Move In To Suspend TV Overall Deals Amid WGA Strike

UPDATED with more studios: The writers strike is now impacting overall deals. Just days into the work stoppage, major TV studios have started sending out letters to writer/producers under overall and first-look agreements, telling them that their deals are being suspended.

No one would comment but I hear Warner Bros. Television, Universal Studio Group, CBS Studios and Disney Television Studios’ 20th Television and ABC Signature are among those that have sent such notifications, with Sony Pictures Television relaying the message in conversations with representatives or informal emails. I hear the letters started going out Thursday and Friday; with some talent getting calls at the end of this week, to be followed by formal letters Monday. UPDATE: HBO’s notifications also have gone out. David Simon revealed on Twitter that he got the call about his deal being suspended “after 25 years of writing television for them” as he is spending another day on the WGA picket lines Monday. Additionally, Amazon Studios will start to send letters to those under overall and first-look deals Monday or Tuesday.

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So far, Netflix has not suspended overall pacts, I hear. Word is that they, along with other streamers, are considering it, and may do it next week. UPDATE TUESDAY: Netflix has started notifying reps that overall deals for writers-producers who are not in productions are being suspended. More details here. Apple too has sent notices.

The suspension of overall deals comes as the major TV studios last week also informed writer/producers that they are expected to continue rendering producing services during the WGA strike. At a meeting Saturday, showrunners shot back, saying that “there is no non-writing aspect” to what they do.

The language in the overall deal suspension letters varies slightly — from “suspended engagement” (NBCUniversal) to “suspended services” (Warner Bros., Disney, CBS Studios) as all notify showrunners that the compensation they receive under their term deals have been suspended effective May 2 when WGA went on strike following the expiration of the guild’s contract with the studios as the two sides could not reach a new agreement.

Some, like Disney and NBCUniversal, do not go into detail while others, like WBTV and CBS Studios, specify areas that are being impacted, including overhead/executive pay and business expense reinforcement, access to office space, etc. Disney notes that all pay is suspended “except as specified in the Agreement.”

RELATED: Latest TV Shows Affected By WGA Strike: ‘Daredevil,’ ‘Billions’, ‘Severance,’ ‘Evil,’ ‘Stranger Things,’ ‘GoT’ Spinoff & More

I hear Disney and Warner Bros. TV are among the studios that are continuing payments to producers who have series in production.

Similarly, CBS Studios did not suspend term deals for those writers/producers who had received the other letter advising them to continue non-writing producer duties, sources said. Amazon Studios also has carveouts for those performing non-writing producing duties, I hear.

I also hear that Sony TV has been offering weekly rates between $5K-10K to writers/producers under suspended overall deals to do producing services. (Sony TV is continuing to pay overall deal-related development execs and other support staff, with the caveat that the studio may reevaluate as the situation develops, sources said.)

All letters end with similar language about the Producer reserving all rights and remedies/not waiving any rights “as a matter of law or equity”/”at law or in equity.” The one from CBS Studios specifies those reserved rights, “including, without limitation, all rights with respect to termination of the Agreement.”

It is the only overall deal suspension letter I have seen that has that language, which sources said was included for transparency. While it is considered common, boiler-plate verbiage and other studios also retain the right to terminate many of their term deals, mentioning “termination” brings up memories of 2008.

Suspending deals is considered standard practice during a strike; it is the potential termination that many are fearing. Evoking the infamous force majeure clause, the major studios cut dozens of overall and other producing deals in January 2008, about two months into the 2007-08 writers strike, along with significant portions of their development slates.

I hear different studios have different stipulations on how deep into a work stoppage they can claim force majeure but we could potentially start hearing about deals being terminated as soon as in a couple of weeks.

On the flip side, sources stress that, for writers/producers under overall deals who studios want to continue to work with, the studios intend to extend the time of strike-related suspension on the back end of their pacts.

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