Do I Have to Do Math? (Television Week-to-week vs. Term Employment)

(April 1997)

Writers are often employed on a week-to-week or term basis, especially as staff writers in episodic television. "Week-to-week" means that the writer is not guaranteed a minimum number of weeks (or is only guaranteed a very few weeks), and may be let go at the Company's discretion; "term" means that the writer is guaranteed a minimum number of weeks of employment.

Either form of weekly payments for staff writers is applicable against services actually performed, and the writer must be paid the greater of (1) the weekly payments or (2) the total sums due for the services performed (stories, teleplays, etc.). If a writer is employed at minimum for three weeks at the week-to-week rate ($3,082 as of May 2, 2000), for a total of $9,246, and during that time writes a story for a one-hour network prime time program, (minimum = $10,655 as of May 2, 2000), the writer must be paid the difference ($1,409) to comply with the applicable minimum.

Writers "Also Employed in Additional Capacities" (otherwise known as Article 14 writers, or Story Editors, Creative Consultants, or Writer-Producers, etc.) may be employed on a per-episode basis, but the applicable Guild minimum payable to the writer is still the week-to-week or term minimum, based on the number of weeks services are actually to be performed. These payments include compensation for rewrites and polishes, but these payments may not be applied against stories and/or teleplays or program fees due.

The Guild agreement generally provides that the greater the number of weeks of employment the writer is guaranteed, the lower the weekly minimums for each such week. This represents a trade-off in the weekly pay in exchange for the benefit of a greater number of weeks of employment. The weekly minimum when 20 or more weeks of employment are guaranteed, for example, is significantly less than the week-to-week minimum when there is no minimum guarantee ($4,309 per week when 20 or more are guaranteed vs. $5,747 on a week-to-week basis for Story Editors, as of May 2, 2000).

The guaranteed weekly minimum applies only to weeks which are specifically guaranteed, not the weeks following a guarantee. If a writer is guaranteed 20 or more weeks and is thereafter employed on a week-to-week basis, the lower (guaranteed) rate may only be used for the twenty guaranteed weeks, and the (higher) week-to-week rates apply thereafter. Please call the Contracts Departments [(323)782-4501] to determine the applicable minimums in specific instances.

Similarly, when a Writer Also Employed in Additional Capacities is guaranteed payment for a specified number of episodes, s/he must be paid the greater of (1) the episodic fee for each episode on which services are performed or (2) the weekly minimum for the number of weeks services are performed. For example, if the writer is employed for 12 episodes at $7,500 per episode, and it will likely take 25 weeks to complete those 12 episodes, but in fact it takes 27 weeks to complete those episodes, the 20 or more week guaranteed rate of $4,309 would apply (as the writer would seem to be guaranteed at least 20 weeks), and the greater of the two rates would be due ($7,500 x 12 = $90,000, while $4,309 x 27 weeks = $116,343). So as the weekly minimum multiplied by the number of weeks is greater than the negotiated episodic fee for each episode produced, the writer must be paid that greater amount (here, the $116,343, with pension and health contributions as well).

Many Companies are not alert to these weekly minimum requirements; writers and their agents should review the individual contracts at the end of the relevant term to assure that the writer was paid not less than Guild minimum for the number of weeks worked at the rate applicable for the number of weeks actually guaranteed and actually performed. Please call the Contracts Department at (323)782-4501 if you have questions.