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Hollywood Writer Salaries, Hollywood Writer’s Wages: Why They Are On Strike


You may have heard that members of the Writer’s Guild are on strike, but it’s not just Hollywood writer salaries that are in jeopardy. According to, non-writing staff members of TV shows are being shown the door. NBC recently laid off the entire production staff of the Tonight Show and workers were told that their jobs might not be there after the strike. Fortunately, Jay Leno has said that he’ll pay their salaries.

On the east coast, TV show staffs are also being affected by the writer’s strike. Like Leno, late night talker Conan O’Brien is paying, out of his own pocket, the salaries of nearly 80 non-writing staffers and the Hollywood writer salaries of his joke scribes (the AFP reports). Why are the writers striking? What is at stake for Hollywood writer salaries?  Keep reading!

How does your salary compare to a Hollywood writer’s wages? Find out with PayScale’s full salary survey.

Script Writer Salaries: Striking in the 1988

The last time the writers went on strike was in the 1988 over profits derived from a new form of media called the “VCR.” Writers wanted a share of each video tape sold, but no one knew for sure if home video would be successful. So after about five months of striking, the Writer’s Guild accepted a rate of 4 cents per video, a number they would regret as VHS took off like gangbusters.

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Hollywood Writer Salaries vs. Author/Book Writer Salary

This current writers strike is also over new media, the Internet. As in 1988, no one knows for sure how much profit will be generated by this new-fangled medium, but the writers don’t want to sell themselves short, again. They are rumored to be asking for 8 cents per program, which isn’t a whole lot compared to novelists who often receive a royalty of one dollar for every book sold.

Salary Writer Producer Television= Six Figures

Hollywood writers, those working, do earn pretty good salaries. For instance, some of the writers for the Tonight Show reportedly earn $500K annually. Many writers for prime-time TV series (i.e. “Lost”, “24”) are also producers, and these writer/producers can earn 7-figure incomes. Staff writers are paid a base salary, plus an extra fee (in the thousands) for writing an episode of a show. 

How about those non-writing folks losing their jobs during the strike? The average salary in Hollywood, according to a 2006 survey by the Motion Picture Association of America, is $73K. So the little folks may be hurt worse than the writers. If you don’t have a Jay Leno or Conan O’Brien paying your salary, it could be a cold holiday in sunny L.A.

Salary of a Magazine Writer and more

What about other types of writers? What kind of salaries do they earn? If we take a page from the PayScale Research Center, we find that the median salary for a writer, which encompasses several different types of writing – newspaper, magazine, etc., varies per city:

  • New York – $47,700
  • Seattle – $43,900
  • Boston – $44,400

The median salary for a copywriter (usually advertising) varies per years of experience, from $62,000 to $35,000. A technical writer (writing instructions, etc.) can earn a median salary ranging from $80,100 to $56,700.

Why the extra pay for technical writing? This position requires both a command of language and a love and understanding of technology. Not a combination usually found in writers. Be thankful these people exist: without technical writers, hooking a printer up to a computer would be almost impossible. Why? Because the help files would be written by computer programmers, a group not known for their communication skills 🙂

Note that the PayScale data are for salaried writers. The many writers who work by the word or for royalties (think J.K. Rowling) are not included in these figures. 

How long could you afford to go on strike? The PayScale Salary Calculator is a quick and easy way to compare positions. When you want powerful salary data and comparisons customized for your exact position, be sure to build a complete profile by taking PayScale’s full salary survey.


Dr. Al Lee

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