Hollywood's two decades of labor peace shattered on Thursday night, as movie and television writers declared they would embark on an industry-wide strike for the first time since 1988, when both writers and Teamsters walked out.
The writers' union said it was to inform its members no later than yesterday afternoon as to when the strike would begin, according to a person who attended a closed-door union gathering on Thursday night in Los Angeles.
Nicholas Counter, president of the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers, said in a statement: "By the WGA leadership's actions at the bargaining table, we are not surprised by tonight's recommendation. We are ready to meet and are prepared to close this contract this weekend."
The strike would pit union writers, whose position has been eroded by reality television and galloping technological change, against studios and networks that are backed by big corporate owners like General Electric and News Corp, but are also unsure of the future.
The walk-out threatens an instant jolt to television talk shows like Late Night With David Letterman and The Daily Show With Jon Stewart which rely on guild writers to churn out monologues and skits. And if the strike drags on, audiences could see the eventual shutdown of soap operas, TV series and movie productions, as they exhaust their bank of ready scripts.
In the near term, a writers strike will have an immediate impact on more than 200,000 workers in the movie and TV industry and the thousands more who produce or sell entertainment elsewhere in the US and abroad.
Thousands of businesses, such as companies that train dogs for television shows or lumber yards that specialize in building materials for sets, face possibly dire consequences. The tourism industry could also feel the pinch.
Over the long haul, multiple strikes could lead to a drastic overhaul of the economics of Hollywood. They could redefine the industry's relationship with its highly unionized work force at a time when DVD sales are cooling and changing movie and TV markets have workers and companies alike vying for their share of a digital bonanza.