The Netflix-Disney Legal Squeeze

Fran Drescher
Photo: Rich Fury/Getty Images
Eriq Gardner
August 8, 2022

Once upon a time in TV land, there were just a handful of networks, and the programming calendar was intently, and inescapably, seasonal. There was a time for pilots and premieres, and a month for finales. Summer was summer, a sacrosanct time when everybody did reruns. And sweeps weeks? I’m not sure how to explain that anachronism. Of course, today is very different—less predictable, much more chaotic. Shows come and go, and while the programming slate is sometimes foretold at some comic book convention, more likely you’re unexpectedly discovering whether your favorite show is getting renewed or canceled while mindlessly scrolling Twitter.

In many ways, this is an absolutely marvelous time for episodic content, but the streaming landscape does put stress on those working to create television. If you listen to the guilds, particularly SAG-AFTRA, the streamers aren’t particularly good at making decisions nor sharing calendars in any sort of expeditious fashion.  Actors sometimes sit on their hands waiting to find out like the rest of us whether their shows are getting picked up. In the meantime, they’re not taking that new role on that other show. Or they can’t block off enough conflict-free time to do a movie.

After a decade of growing increasingly frustrated, SAG-AFTRA could be on the verge of achieving a breakthrough. It’s a remarkable squeeze play that’s happening partly because California’s politics have drifted leftwards and the legislature is more receptive to union priorities. But lobbying for policy reform is only part of this play. There’s also a furious negotiation happening behind closed doors. And, as evidenced by a deal with Netflix last week, SAG-AFTRA is gaining ground. We may even begin to see a semblance of seasonality again. Or we may witness a hefty new lawsuit that could steer Hollywood’s future.