There is much concern about the frightening advance of AI. In Los Angeles, members of the Writers Guild of America which represents 11,000 writers have entered their fourth week of strikes. They are demanding, among other things, higher pay, and crucially, that the studios guarantee they won’t slice into writers royalty payments by crediting AI tools such as ChatGPT on scripts.
There is indeed a real threat of screenwriters’ jobs becoming redundant as AI advances. Yet the streaming services who employ writers are far more likely to self-sabotage long before AI becomes sophisticated enough to produce television and film scripts worthy of being made.
Look at a lot of the ‘content’ that the studios have pumped out in recent years.
Amazon’s Rings of Power, which is estimated to have cost the studio at least $1 billion (£810 million) and had only a 37 per cent domestic completion rate (customers who watched the entire series). Or Netflix’s Sense8, which cost $216 million (£175 million), and was watched by almost nobody. The streaming services are spending staggering amounts of money generating dire results. No wonder some executives are considering outsourcing the creative side to the machines.
Suddenly, the early noughties seem like the golden era of television. Shows such as The Sopranos, The Wire and Mad Men proved to cultural snobs for the first time that a television series could be as cinematically rich, complex and expertly crafted as a film. Netflix, Amazon, Hulu and Apple TV were born largely off the back of that ‘box-set boom’. Yet increasingly these companies produce only the sort of dross that may as well have been written, directed, acted and produced by an algorithm. Anyone who has watched Netflix’s Sex/Life will know what I mean.
There is still great television being made.