What a Hollywood Strike Means for Your Remote

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LUCY NICHOLSON/AFP

Not so much of this if Hollywood's writers and/or actors go on strike

At midnight Tuesday, America’s television screens could go dark.

Sorry — dramatic license. In reality, the tubes will keep chattering away, oblivious to the fact that their immediate future as entertainment fixtures could be in danger. You see, if the Writers Guild of America doesn’t reach an agreement on a new contract — and one wasn't reached by Tuesday night's deadline — the nation’s movie and TV writers could vote to walk off the job. And, sadly for America’s viewing masses, that would mean no new television shows.

Guild members maintain that the old contract doesn’t go far enough to protect writers’ income or their place in the great Hollywood hierarchy. Pair the looming writers’ strike with another, even more threatening specter — a midsummer actors’ strike — and you’re looking at grim times indeed in the City of Angels.

Jess Cagle, TIME Los Angeles correspondent and Hollywood observer, called in Tuesday to offer his take on L.A.’s latest conundrum.

TIME.com: For the uninitiated, can you quickly describe the crux of the writers’ complaints?

Jess Cagle: Basically, the 11,000 movie and TV writers in the Guild want a bigger piece of residuals — money made from foreign sales, DVDs and video and also from the Internet.

Another interesting but relatively minor point in the negotiations is that the writers want more respect; this is especially true for movie writers, who want a large role in the credits of movies. Right now, you’ll often see a movie pegged as "a film by (name of director.)" Writers want to end directors’ proprietary claim.

What does the strike mean for viewers?

Right now there’s a lot of optimism they’ll reach an agreement before the contract expires at midnight Tuesday, but you never know with these things. A writers’ strike would affect television the most, rather than movies, because movies that are already written can be finished without writers. If television writers go on strike, you won’t see the effects right away. This season is in the can; studios have long since wrapped the finales of shows like "Friends," "Will and Grace" and "NYPD Blue." But if a strike drags on, next fall you’re going to see a lineup of "Survivor" clones, news shows, and "Millionaire"-type shows. Programming, in other words, that doesn’t require drama or comedy writers.

What about the movies?

The movie industry is much more concerned about an actors’ strike, which could happen if a contract doesn’t come through by June 30. And if there’s an actors’ strike, movies will, in essence, just shut down. An actors’ strike would be far worse for the industry as a whole — you can’t shoot movies or television without actors, but you can shoot some television (and movies that have already been written) without writers.

How bad would this strike be for Los Angeles and the Hollywood community?

When people talk about $2 billion a month in lost revenue for L.A. and 82,000 lost jobs, they’re talking about a doomsday scenario.

How is Hollywood preparing for a strike?

Movie production is way up, and everybody’s trying to get scripts in good shape in case of a writer’s strike. Actors have been shooting movies back-to-back for months now. People are talking a lot about a new season consisting much more of reality programming, and some television studios are banking episodes of their big shows for the fall — getting them written and shot in case the worst does happen.