Tony Awards broadcast can continue after strike writers’ union agrees

This year’s Tony Awards ceremony, which has been uncertain since Hollywood screenwriters went on strike earlier this month, will go ahead as planned in a modified form after the writers’ union said Monday night that it would not picket.

“As they supported us, we stand with our colleagues on Broadway who are affected by our strike,” the Writers Guild of America, which represents screenwriters, said in a statement late Monday.

A disruption could have been damaging to Broadway, which sees the televised ceremony as a key marketing opportunity, especially now when audiences have yet to return to pre-pandemic levels. Several nominated shows have run at a loss, in hopes that a win for Tony – or even exposure to the show – could boost sales.

The union has made it clear that the show, which is scheduled to air on CBS on June 11, will be different from past ceremonies.

“Tony Awards Productions (a joint venture of the Broadway League and the American Theater Wing) has informed us that they are modifying this year’s show to conform to specific requests from the WGA, and therefore the WGA will not be making picketing in front of the show,” the union said in a statement. “The responsibility for having to make changes to the format of the 2023 Tony Awards rests entirely on the shoulders of Paramount/CBS and their allies. They continue to refuse to negotiate a fair contract for writers represented by the WGA”

The union did not specify what those differences would be, and Tony Awards administrators had no immediate comment. But a person familiar with the plan, who spoke on terms not yet public, said the revised show would include the presentation of key awards and live performances of songs from Broadway shows, but that it would not feature any new scripted material by screenwriters in its opening number or comedic template.

The Tony Awards agreed they would not use any part of a draft script that was written before the writers’ strike began, the person said.

It wasn’t immediately clear what role, if any, Ariana DeBose will play on the show. The Oscar-winning actress and Broadway lover hosted the awards show last year and agreed to host it again this year; she is a talented singer and dancer, so it remains possible that she could still play a role in an unscripted awards show, but that is yet to be determined.

While the Tony Awards aren’t a big draw compared to other awards shows, the televised ceremony is a key marketing opportunity for the theater industry, which still draws audiences well below pre-pandemic numbers.

It became clear immediately after the writers’ strike broke out that the labor disruption could affect the Tony Awards, as the awards show is televised (by CBS) and streamed live (by Paramount+) and usually features a screenplay written by screenwriters.

Broadway is a heavily unionized industry, and unionized theater workers like actors and musicians were not going to participate in an awards show protested by another union. The Tony Awards administrators, aware of these concerns, asked the WGA for a waiver that would have allowed its writers to work on the series, given the dire situation in the theater industry; On Friday, the WGA denied that request, and on Monday night it reiterated that denial, saying the guild “will not be negotiating an interim agreement or waiver for the Tony Awards.”

But the Tony Awards administrators didn’t give up and asked the guild if, even without a waiver to allow writers to work on the show, it would allow the broadcast to go ahead without writers as long as it met certain conditions. .

Prominent theater artists who work on Broadway and are allied with the Writers Guild also spoke out on behalf of the Tonys, saying forcing the show off the air would be devastating to the art form and to the many artistic workers it employs. The combination of lobbying efforts and new terms — which neither Broadway nor union officials have elaborated on — appeared to have prompted the guild to say Monday night that it would not picket the show.

Striking screenwriters have argued that their wages have stagnated and working conditions have deteriorated despite TV production booming over the past decade. Negotiations between major Hollywood studios – represented by the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers – and the WGA broke down three weeks ago. About 11,500 writers went on strike from May 2.

Over the past two weeks, the writers have gathered picket lines outside major studios in Los Angeles and production sound stages in New York. But the writers also went further, with some picketing outside productions in more distant locations like Maplewood, NJ, Chicago and Philadelphia.

The threat of protests forced Netflix to cancel a major in-person showcase for advertisers, which was scheduled for Wednesday, and turn it into a virtual format instead. The company also canceled an appearance by Netflix co-CEO Ted Sarandos at the PEN America Literary Gala at the Museum of Natural History on Thursday, where he was to be honored alongside the longtime “Saturday Night Live” executive producer. Lorne Michaels. .

CBS has been broadcasting the Tonys since the 1970s, making it one of the longest continuous relationships between a single broadcaster and an awards show. CBS struck a deal to air the show through 2026. Due to the Tonys’ relatively low viewership, it has long been more of a prestige piece for the network than a major profit generator.

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