EXCLUSIVE: The Writers Guild of America has opened investigations on both coasts into complaints by members of delayed and smaller than usual residual checks.
Instigated over the past few days as the WGA strike moves deeper into its fourth month, the probe specifically is looking at issues with third-quarter payments that scribes on a number of network and premium cable shows have reported apparently late or lower than usual payments, I hear.
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“What’s been showing up in my mailbox is definitely smaller than previous quarters and last year,” one showrunner said of his recent residuals checks.
“The quarter isn’t over yet, but my checks so far seem delayed,” one veteran writer said, noting how the lack of incoming funds is hurting his ability to meet core financial obligations.
Former Law & Order: SVU showrunner Warren Leight took to social media over the weekend about the issue, generating a number of responses from other writers **who say they are** experiencing similar issues with their residuals:
To those of you who reliably get residuals (say, from a network procedural or sit com):
At the risk of seeming paranoid, has anybody noticed this quarter's residuals are way behind where they should be at this point? I've spoken to several WGAE folks who've noticed a drop-off.
— Warren Leight (@warrenleightTV) September 11, 2023
Contacted by Deadline, the WGA had no comment on the residual matter or on whether there is an inquiry underway.
It is worth noting that based on a variety of metrics including repeats, licensing arrangements and international sales, residuals for shows and individuals can vary quarter over quarter.
The issue of residuals and more equitable methods of payments to meet the realities of the changing industry has been a primary point of contention in negotiations between studios and streamers since the WGA called its first strike in 15 years and hit the picket lines May 2.
Residuals are compensation going to credited writers for reuse of materials, as well as actors and others. Both the WGA and SAG-AFTRA have made residuals, especially in streaming, a centerpiece of their current strikes since streamers, which don’t reveal viewership data, have disrupted the decades-old formula. Established out of the 1960 joint writers and actors strike, the regular payments provide a steady income to many in Hollywood where work is not assured and there are gaps between projects. They’re particularly key now with most of the industry having no fresh income due to work stoppages.
“The way things are right now, this could blow up if it turns out people aren’t getting their money,” one well-positioned guild member told Deadline of the current lack of movement between the WGA and the AMPTP on a new three-year contract.
In terms of where scribes were reporting lighter payouts or delayed checks, shows from NBCUniversal, CBS Studios and HBO were mentioned the most, I’m told. As has been the norm in the industry, companies utilize third-party vendors like the bicoastal Entertainment Partners to cut and distribute residual checks.
NBCU, HBO and CBS Studios declined comment on the matter.
Sources at the Comcast-owned NBCU say there have not been delays in delivering funds to the outside company that sends out its residual checks. HBO has not had any claims from the WGA on delayed or missing residuals, sources there say. Over at CBS Studios, I’m told the company has not seen issues with payments from their network shows.
It seems the probe by the guild began on the East Coast, as members who worked on procedurals and sitcoms reached out to the WGA East with concerns in the past few days. Due to the unpredictable arrival of residuals, most individuals initially qualified their raising of the issue with a “it might be just me.” That proved to not be the case as more complaints came into WGA East headquarters. The matter has now expanded as the WGA West began receiving similar queries in recent days.
The WGA strike is on its 134th day, while SAG-AFTRA has been out 61 days. No new talks between either guild and the AMPTP are on the books.
Nellie Andreeva & Jill Goldsmith contributed to this report.
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