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What the Hollywood writers union deal means for TV

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

Hollywood got a round of applause from the White House today as President Biden celebrated news that the Writers Guild of America has reached a tentative deal with the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers, possibly ending their historic strike. Biden called the agreement a testament to the power of collective bargaining. Still, a lot of questions, though, about the agreement itself and when TV shows and films might resume production, especially for daytime and late-night TV. And, of course, the union representing Hollywood actors, SAG-AFTRA, remains on strike.

Well here to answer some of the questions raised by this new tentative agreement is our TV critic and media analyst Eric Deggans. Hey there.

ERIC DEGGANS, BYLINE: Hi.

KELLY: OK, so neither side has revealed details yet that I have seen. There's still some hoops they have to jump through. What's left to be done?

DEGGANS: Well, the Writers Guild kind of laid out this process in a note that's on its website to its members. Basically, the leadership of the WGA has to vote to present the agreement to its full membership of more than 11,500 people for ratification. Now, that leadership vote is expected on Tuesday. Once that happens, they'll reveal the details of the agreement to their membership and presumably to the press and the public. And after all that happens, then the leadership may also vote to lift the restraining order and end the strike at a certain day or time. Now, that could allow WGA members to return to work even before the agreement is ratified by the full membership.

KELLY: OK. But let me focus on the timing. If the WGA were to officially end it's strike on Tuesday, would that open the door for at least some shows, like daytime talk shows or late-night TV shows? They could come back quickly, right?

DEGGANS: That is certainly the hope of a lot of people across Hollywood. I mean, you might recall that talk shows like "The Drew Barrymore Show" and "Real Time With Bill Maher" had announced plans to return to new episodes last week, but they wound up standing down amid a significant backlash. Now, the trade magazine Variety published a story on Sunday night that quoted unnamed producers saying that late-night TV shows - which suspended their production when the strike started about 146 days ago - they might come back as soon as next week. That's because the hosts of these shows aren't covered by the actor's strike, though you probably won't see performers appearing on talk shows to push major movies or TV shows until the actors strike is also settled. And I'm also hearing "The Drew Barrymore Show" is hoping to come back next month as well.

KELLY: OK. And I'm remembering, you know, we're talking about the late-night hosts, that five of the biggest ones had this podcast. They were trying to raise money for their staffs. Have they said anything about when they might come back?

DEGGANS: So far, people from late-night shows like "The Tonight Show With Jimmy Fallon" or "The Late Show With Stephen Colbert" haven't said much of anything publicly since the tentative agreement was announced. I think a lot of the details on how these shows might come back depends on whether the WGA allows members to work before the agreement is fully ratified by its membership and how the Writers Guild will support the actors still on strike. I mean, can WGA members cross a SAG picket line to work?

KELLY: Yeah.

DEGGANS: I think there's hope that the WGA leadership will issue some guidance on these questions after it votes on Tuesday.

KELLY: And before I let you go, Eric, what about all the other TV shows, dramas and comedies, all the scripted programs? Do we know when they might come back?

DEGGANS: I think that's going to be a longer process because the actors who star in those shows are still on strike. I think the hope is that the WGA agreement would provide a strong starting point for negotiations with the actors. But I think that's going to be tough to judge until we learn specifically what the writers union agreed to and whether its membership is going to ratify that deal.

KELLY: And we may see more tomorrow. NPR TV critic and media analyst Eric Deggans. Thanks, Eric.

DEGGANS: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Eric Deggans is NPR's first full-time TV critic.

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