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Writers Guild Awards roasts studios after strike, celebrates 'the power of workers'

Just when you thought awards season was over, the red carpet has been dusted off and rolled out for one last hurrah.

During dual ceremonies held in New York and Los Angeles, the Writers Guild of America handed out its annual awards to the best in 2023 film and television on Sunday night. In New York, Sandra Oh presented "The Holdovers" with one of the biggest film awards of the night, which also saw "American Fiction" win a top honor.

The WGA Awards typically occur before the Oscars but were delayed this year due to the writers' strike, during which writers took to picket lines for nearly five months after negotiations for a new contract with the major studios broke down. In October, WGA members overwhelmingly voted to ratify a deal. The actors union SAG-AFTRA also went on strike from July to November.

The WGA Awards, then, served as a victory lap for union members who celebrated the agreement — and, at times, a roast of the studios they were pitted against during the strike.

Josh Gondelman hosts the 2024 Writers Guild Awards New York ceremony on April 14, 2024, in New York City.
Josh Gondelman hosts the 2024 Writers Guild Awards New York ceremony on April 14, 2024, in New York City.

Host Josh Gondelman, who has written for "Last Week Tonight" and "Desus & Mero," set the tone by skewering Warner Bros. Discovery CEO David Zaslav in his opening monologue. The comedian joked Zaslav has turned Warner Bros. Discovery "into the Boeing airplanes of the entertainment industry" and, in reference to the company axing films like "Batgirl," said the real winners are everyone "whose projects weren't quietly shelved for the tax write-offs."

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The comedian also said that studios are now telling writers to prepare for a "period of contraction, which is also what you tell someone who's pregnant." Dropping an F-bomb, he quipped, "I guess that makes sense considering their business model is predicated on (expletive) us."

The barbs kept coming as presenter Ilana Glazer joked that the adapted screenplay category is known among studio executives as "intellectual properties with an existing fanbase we can continue to profit from." The adapted screenplay award went to "American Fiction," which previously won at the Oscars, while "The Holdovers" took home original screenplay weeks after reports that the script has been accused of plagiarism.

And during a comedy bit where Gondelman pretended to speak to artificial intelligence, a faux AI voice described itself as a good friend of Netflix co-CEO Ted Sarandos. Concerns about writers being replaced with artificial intelligence were a major issue during the strike.

Hollywood writers officially ratify new contract with studios that ended 5-month strike

On a more serious note, Gondelman said he was "so proud" to have been part of the "historic" double strike and hailed the deals as a "massive victory for our unions." Later, WGA East Executive Director Sam Wheeler said the strike showed that "anything is possible when we stand together," while WGA East President Lisa Takeuchi Cullen slammed studio CEOs who waited months to get "off their yachts" and attend negotiating meetings. She described the most "pivotal" aspect of the strike as the solidarity shown by sister unions like IATSE and SAG-AFTRA.

"Their solidarity moved more than the needle for us," Cullen said. "It transformed how employers not just in Hollywood, not just in America, but around the world, viewed the power of workers."

Also during his opening monologue, Gondelman called for a ceasefire amid the Israel-Hamas war. "No one's freedom and safety on this Earth should come at the expense of anyone else's," he said.

'Succession' writer jokes her episode shouldn't have won: 'I'm horrified'

On the television side, "Succession" won best drama series, and the episode "Living+" won best episodic drama — though its co-writer, Georgia Pritchett, dryly questioned the win in an acceptance speech that earned big laughs. A different episode of "Succession," "Kill List," was also nominated in the same category.

"Succession" writer Georgia Pritchett during the Writers Guild Awards New York ceremony.
"Succession" writer Georgia Pritchett during the Writers Guild Awards New York ceremony.

"I really don't think this was better than the other episodes," she said, jokingly calling the win a "nightmare" and questioning the WGA's decision. "I'm horrified to be part of this miscarriage of justice."

Hollywood writers and studios reach tentative agreement to end historic 146-day strike

Other television wins included "The Bear" being awarded best comedy series, "Beef" winning best limited series, and "The Last of Us" winning best new series.

'Andor' creator Tony Gilroy is 'terrified' about AI: 'Potentially apocalyptic'

"Fellow Travelers" creator Ron Nyswaner received the honorary Walter Bernstein Award at the WGA's New York ceremony, while "Andor" creator Tony Gilroy was honored with the Ian McLellan Hunter career achievement award. Gilroy joked in his speech that he's grateful to have been born "after antibiotics, and before the robot takeover," wondering what the awards ceremony will look like in 12 years.

"Andor" creator Tony Gilroy during the 2024 Writers Guild Awards New York Ceremony.
"Andor" creator Tony Gilroy during the 2024 Writers Guild Awards New York Ceremony.

The "Michael Clayton" director struck a more serious tone speaking to USA TODAY on the red carpet, saying he is "terrified" about the potential impacts of artificial intelligence.

"It seems potentially apocalyptic at all levels," he said. "I do my best to not think about it."

Meanwhile, "Only Murders in the Building" co-creator John Hoffman told USA TODAY that the prospect of writers being replaced with artificial intelligence is "frightening," while expressing hope that "people can really suss out when something is not human made."

Author Neil Gaiman also struck an optimistic note while telling USA TODAY he doesn't "worry about my profession" being replaced by AI, which is "never going to create anything that's going to make you think, that's going to make you laugh, that's going to make you cry, that's going to make you care."

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: WGA Awards winners: 'Holdovers,' 'American Fiction'; AI, execs roasted