Lessons from the writers' strike

Writers walk the picket line in front of Fox Studio in Los Angeles.

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Tess Vigeland: You could practically hear the pencils grinding in their sharpeners all over Los Angeles this week. The writers are back!

After more than three months on the picket lines, the Writers Guild of America voted yes this week on a new contract with Hollywood studios.

Now everybody's rushing to get the shows we love back on the air and the writers are rushing to get money back in the bank.

Stacey Vanek Smith talked with some of them about how they coped with some 15 weeks of no income.


Stacey Vanek Smith: It's been a long winter here in Sunny California. As TV production ground to a halt, an estimated 11,000 people were put out of work.

Los Angeles economist Jack Kyser says it's been tough on the entertainment industry:

Jack Kyser: There's a lot of people out there struggling financially. At the end of the day, when you have a strike like this, you never really make it up. The wages that you have lost are probably gone forever.

Wages totaling more than a billion and a half dollars, according to Kyser. So, how did those walking the picket line make ends meet?

TV writer Kit Boss says he's always been a saver, so he had a nest egg when the strike hit:

Kit Boss: I was lucky enough to have a little run on a show that kept coming back. So I worked seven years solid on King of the Hill, and I just put money away, because you never know where the next job is going to come from and you never know when that job is going to end, so I had an emergency fund and that's what I've been living off.

Boss says one of the hardest parts about the strike was not knowing how long it would last. That made it almost impossible to know how much money to save. So Boss says he and his wife started eating at home most nights and he stopped playing golf. And he says, his charitable donations started going to the strike fund to help support industry workers who couldn't weather the storm financially.

Screenwriter Alexi Hawley says the strike meant a big lifestyle change:

Alexi Hawley: We don't go out really. We've cut back on a lot of things and I think everybody in town has done that for the most part.

Hawley says most of the writers in the guild have had it tough:

Hawley: It's been very hard financially. Not getting a paycheck for going on four months is hard for pretty much everybody and, you know, the majority of the guild is middle class; they're working writers and there isn't anybody in America except the very wealthy who could go for four or five months without a paycheck.

The strike also highlighted the importance of having money saved up. Hawley says as soon as he starts getting paychecks again, he's going to start building a savings.

Of course, the strike has also meant writers weren't spending 12 hours a day at work.

Hawley: I've been a little bit a Mr. Mom for like three months.

Mike Royce has written for Everybody Loves Raymond. He says the strike has been tough financially, but it's also meant a lot of priceless time with the family:

Mike Royce: The biggest lifestyle for me has been being home with the kids, thereby making my kids hate me... more, and that's an investment that just... you can't put a price on.

In Los Angeles, I'm Stacey Vanek Smith for Marketplace Money.

About the author

Stacey Vanek Smith is a senior reporter for Marketplace, where she covers banking, consumer finance, housing and advertising.

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