The Golden Age of TV Is Costing Our TV Writers

Mert Erenel, Contributing Writer

In watching the Emmys on Sunday, it was hard to decide who should win — there are just too many amazing shows on television right now. There is a reason people are calling this period the Golden Age of TV, as the TV experience has fundamentally changed, largely due to streaming. However, I would argue, not all of these changes are for the better.

The change can be seen in the numbers. Up until recently, a typical network TV show would have 20-23 episodes per season as well as re-runs of those episodes. Writers would get paid per episode they wrote along with earnings from the re-runs. Today, episode counts have gone down to 10-13. Also, higher viewership for re-runs is not as common, as you can stream an endless amount of other shows instantly with digital platforms such as Netflix and Amazon Video. With less episodes and unpopular re-runs, writers have lost a significant amount of pay. According to the Writer’s Guild of America 2017 report, the growth rate of total earnings of writers decreased since 2014 — the first Netflix Original Series, House of Cards, debuted in 2013 — to the point where writers earned less this year by 1.7 percent. This is despite the fact that TV broadcast and cable networks gained a six percent higher in revenue in the period. As writers are writing fewer episodes and earning less money, the logical thing to do would be to write for more TV shows, right? Well, if you have an exclusive contract — which is the case with most writers — you legally cannot.

Now, I am all for Netflix and other streaming services that allow us to access creative content instantly. It is good for TV junkies, and it is good for TV companies. But if we do not value the writers, who use up all their creative knowledge and intellect to bring us the best creative content for our entertainment, then why should they value the quality of their writing?

There is a reason we are calling this era The Golden Age of Television. Shows like “Game of Thrones,” “House of Cards,” “Black Mirror,” “Breaking Bad” and “American Gods” have made television increasingly creative. Furthermore, the birth of new streaming platforms has created a higher number of shows than ever before. If this dynamic is to continue, studios need to recognize the recent increased value of their writers and pay accordingly.

Opinions expressed on the editorial pages are not necessarily those of WSN, and our publication of opinions is not an endorsement of them. Email Mert Erenel [email protected]