TV executives are beaming at their handsome 8-10% increases in advertising revenue this year, reports Variety magazine. Unfortunately, salaries for TV writers have at best stagnated, or in some cases, even fallen.
Writers are still reeling from the knock-on effects of the WGA strike and the protracted recession. Although scripted TV has bounced back thanks to CBS, but overall, fewer deals were made. This has reduced the leverage writers have previously enjoyed, giving them little bargaining power over their salaries. Typically, TV writers were handed three year deals this year, with a 4% annual increase.
This contrasts with shorter deals in the past (mainly yearly), allowing writers to move on to more lucrative deals at the end of a season. Furthermore, the TV writers who have secured either a writing, showrunning or development deal, no longer have the chance to simultaneous develop other projects. The networks claim they don’t want their writers to suffer unnecessary distractions.
More shows are also reducing their staff rather than increase their budgets. Many TV shows now have 5-6 writers rather than the traditional 10-12.
There are also fewer opportunities for newer writers seeking to break in to TV. These include the “ABC-Disney Writers Program” and NBC’s “Writers On The Verge” and a few diversity programs for under-represented ethnic minorities and women. The one or two slots previously reserved for rookies have vanished from most writers rooms.
Some TV shows, particularly on cable, are extending opportunities for newer writers via a “paper partners” program. This is essentially a pairing of two “baby” writers who split a single salary.
The TV world is still in a precarious state, but thankfully there are more writing jobs this year than last.