The 2007 Writers Strike was a significant event in the history of the American entertainment industry. The strike lasted 100 days, and while it did result in increased funding for writers, it helped boost reality TV programming.
How it started
During contract negotiations with the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers (AMPTP), a trade association representing over 300 production companies, the Writers Guild of America (WGA) called for strike action.
WGA members demanded a share of revenues generated by movies, television shows, and other works distributed on the Internet and viewed on computers, cell phones, and other new-media devices. Whilst viewers happily watched webisodes on their computers, writers and actors were expected to do the work for free. Strike!
Shows affected by the writers’ strike
Some of my favourite shows were affected by the writers’ strike. In one or two instances, the writers took the opportunity to rework the season with good results.
Ten hours of Battlestar Galactica’s final Season 4.5 run were complete, plus a two-hour movie when the strike hit. The remaining ten episodes were up in the air. Because of the strike, the cast felt so desperate that they believed the episode Sometimes A Great Notion would be the series’ last.
Writer and showrunner Ronald D Moore, who had been on the picket line, took the opportunity to reconsider the end of the series.
Star Trek: The Next Generation
Star Trek: The Next Generation had its second season order shortened from 26 episodes to 22. Due to shortened production window, the show sourced scripts outside the standard writer’s room which is why we ended up with The Child as the first episode of season two. The writing was adapted from a script written initially for phase two of the original series.
Producers dug through the pile of spec scripts from outside writers and got lucky with The Measure of a Man written by attorney turned writer Melinda M Snodgrass. The story was the ninth episode of the season. Snodgrass was hired as the show’s story editor.
Fans attacked Heroes’ second season due to new characters, a dragged out time travel storyline, and romances that distracted them from the show’s super-powers.
Due to the strike, the comic-book-inspired show’s second season was limited to just 11 episodes, so Tim Kring reshot the season’s eventual finale, Powerless and scrapped a planned plague storyline that would have filled the second half of the show. Villains, which was the fourth instalment of the series, became the third. The series continued for two more seasons.
Lost had just aired eight episodes from its fourth season at the time of the writers’ strike. Despite only having a month’s break, the season lost two episodes. The episodes were later added to seasons 5 and 6.
Rise of reality TV programming
During the strike, Networks lost tens of millions of dollars in ad revenue due to the closure of more than 60 TV shows.
For the duration of the strike, TV viewers were forced to go without new episodes of their favourite shows, as networks dealt with the shutdown of production by padding the schedule with reruns and increased amounts of the worst genre of television ever – reality programming (such as a revamped version of the 1990s hit American Gladiators).
As reality TV usually documents unscripted real-life situations, talented writers aren’t required, so the networks churned out as much of this junk as they needed to fill the schedules. During the 2007-2008 season, more than 100 unscripted shows were debuted or returned. Some of this programming included quiz shows which is a far better beast than reality TV.
Quiz shows are typically more about intelligence and knowledge, while reality TV is more about watching people’s lives unfold. I know many people find them entertaining due to the “real-life” drama, but for me, they are unimaginative.
It was estimated that the strike cost the Los Angeles economy over $3 billion, including lost wages for writers and crew members and lost business for catering and equipment rental companies and reduced spending by consumers.
I was in full support of WGA members getting what was due to them; it’s a shame that the networks realised the power of unscripted TV, and now the genre is on the rise.