In a late statement from the Writers Guild of America May 15, the union has revealed it will not picket this year's Tony Awards, clearing a possible path forward for the June 11 ceremony. According to the statement, this update comes in response to promised alterations to the ceremony "to conform with specific requests from the WGA[.]"
The nature of these alterations remains unclear, making it difficult to predict how or if it will affect the planned live TV broadcast of the awards, currently scheduled for June 11.
The statement is the latest development in a troubled period for this year's planned Tony Awards broadcast, which has been threatened by WGA's current strike. Since May 2, the WGA, which represents TV and film writers, have been on strike following a breakdown in negotiations with the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers over royalties for streaming titles and the potential use of A.I. in screenwriting amongst other grievances.
The Tony Awards Committee reached out to the WGA for a waiver so that the broadcast could go forward as originally planned. The WGA's denial of the waiver was thought to have killed the possibility of a live TV broadcast for the Tonys. Though WGA does not represent Broadway writers, The Tony Awards are a TV show, and thus the union does represent the writers who create everything from comedy bits for the host to the banter that presenters read. It was reported earlier today that a second waiver request had been sent by the awards' organizers, and now we know that this latest request included further promises to WGA.
WGA's statement reads in full:
As has been previously reported, the Writers Guilds of America East and West (WGA) will not negotiate an interim agreement or a waiver for the Tony Awards.
However, Tony Awards Productions (a joint venture of the Broadway League and the American Theatre Wing) has communicated with us that they are altering this year's show to conform with specific requests from the WGA, and therefore the WGA will not be picketing the show.
Responsibility for having to make changes to the format of the 2023 Tony Awards rests squarely on the shoulders of Paramount/CBS and their allies. They continue to refuse to negotiate a fair contract for the writers represented by the WGA.
As they have stood by us, we stand with our fellow workers on Broadway who are impacted by our strike.
With their latest statement, it seems the WGA is acknowledging how a lack of Tony Awards broadcast would be a blow to Broadway shows that were hoping for a bump in ticket sales, not only from winning Tony Awards, but also having performances air on national television during the ceremony. Producers often set aside cash reserves to allow productions to run at a loss (if necessary) in the weeks leading up to the big night, in hopes that the Tonys will help them find an audience. The absence of a national broadcast—or at least a national broadcast in June—could easily lead to closing notices, even for productions that did well with Tony nominations. With this new development, it spells hope for many Broadway productions.
This latest news does not necessarily mean things will be back to normal for this year's Tonys. Neither organizers nor union representatives have yet shared what alterations WGA required to call off a potential picket line at the event. The statement specifies that WGA "will not negotiate an interim agreement or a waiver," meaning WGA members will not be able to write anything for the broadcast. Solidarity policies from other Hollywood unions have also ensured that other players will not be able to fill in for striking writers, with SAG-AFTRA (representing actors on TV and film) informing its membership that they "should not perform the duties covered by WGA contracts. Simply stated, you should not write anything normally written by striking WGA writers." One possible scenario is a repeat of the 1988 Tony Awards, also broadcast during a WGA strike. The evening saw host Angela Lansbury and all presenters speaking impromptu from prompts set by ceremony producers.
At the very least, it does seem that any artists working, and performing, during the broadcast will not be considered crossing the picket line.
And despite the new development, it remains unclear if the various parties involved with the ceremony will still agree to participate. There has been a groundswell in support for WGA from within the Broadway community, making the prospect of a "normal" Tony Awards broadcast with the strike still active precarious, regardless of whether or not WGA actively pickets the ceremony.
With June 11 less than a month away, further details on what we can expect this year's Tony Awards celebration to look like should be revealed imminently. Playbill will continue reporting as soon as more is known.
Nominations for the Broadway honors were revealed May 2, with Some Like It Hot becoming the season's most nominated production with 13 nods. The title is one of five shows up for the venerated Best Musical Tony Award, along with & Juliet; Kimberly Akimbo; New York, New York; and Shucked. Up for Best Play are three works that are already Pulitzer winners: Between Riverside and Crazy, Cost of Living, and Fat Ham; along with Ain't No Mo' and Leopoldstadt. See the full list of nominations here.