In an uncanny parallel to the Writers Strike 2007, the entertainment industry finds itself once again engulfed in turmoil as writers take to the picket lines.
the current Writers Strikewhich is interrupting American film, television, and digital media, is focused on streaming media residuals and artificial intelligence.
As scribes barricade themselves with placards demanding fair compensation and creative autonomy, the echoes of the past resound, stirring up unresolved tensions between the Writers Guild of America labor union and the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers.
This article looks back at the infamous writers strike 2007 and explores how it’s relevant to the writing community and media consumers today.
The 2007 Writers Guild of America Strike
On Nov 5 2007, screenwriters from the Writers Guild of America (WGA), a collective union of American writers, took to the streets of Los Angeles to protest against television corporations, including:
- The Weinstein Company
- The Walt Disney Company
- NBC Universal
- Paramount Pictures
- Warner Bros
- News Corporation
For decades before the strike, WGA had been protesting against a recurring issue with the distribution of money in the business.
In 1985, writers went on strike over the home video market, where distribution companies argued that the delivery and manufacturing of these home videos were expensive, meaning writers were left short changed for their work.
The pattern continued as new forms of media were released, which led to the 100-day Hollywood Writers Strike 2007.
The strike sought to increase the funding for writers, which was proven to be significantly lower than the profits of these large studios. Screenwriters felt as if their work was seen as inferior in the grand scheme of production, though the effects on TV shows and movies during this protest was yet to prove otherwise!
What Happened During the Two Month Strike?
Writers across America conducted a powerful walkout, which proved to shake the entertainment industry more than anyone expected. With over 60 television shows shutting down and millions of dollars lost for the networks, the local economy certainly took a hit.
During the strike, consumers and television lovers everywhere had to go without their favorite shows, while networks aired back-to-back reruns.
Writers continued protesting for a larger share of the profits being made from distribution networks. Some notable faces amongst the protest crowds included Ben Stiller, Lisa Kudrow, Matthew Perry, plus many actors from the cast of Grey’s Anatomy and CSI.
“The [writers’] deal is ridiculously unfair and anything that anybody can do to call attention to that is good at this stage. It’s miraculously unfair what’s going on, so it’s a no-brainer, you just come out and support it.”
Matthew Perry in 2007
As the strike persisted, popular late night shows like Saturday Night Live were paused for months. As a result, unscripted reality shows emerged because producers weren’t able to get their hands on scripts by professional writers.
It’s evident how significant of a role writers played in the overall production, engagement, and distribution of the shows and films that were driving the Los Angeles entertainment economy. Without them, the industry lost millions, hugely-sponsored award ceremonies went downhill, blockbusters were delayed, and new shows didn’t make it past their first season.
How was the Writers Strike 2007 Resolved?
While it felt like the entertainment industry was a fire that couldn’t be put out at this point, on February 12 2008, the members of the WGA eventually voted by a margin of more than 90% go back to work.
What did they achieve?
TheWGA earned a larger piece of the digital revenues from the productions they scripted.
What were the Long-Term Effects of the Writers Strike 2007?
Although this proves how needed and how successful the strike turned out in terms of giving writers their residual payment terms, they had to return to industries that were inevitably changed.
Reality TV Shows Gained Momentum
By the time writers had made their way back to work, reality shows like Deal or No Deal were having their moment and topping the ratings each week.
This meant that scripted TV shows were drying out because of the lack of new episodes throughout the duration of the strike.
Death of the Newbie Writers
While you may think that the lack of scriptwriters would create opportunities to younger, less-experienced writers looking to get their foot in the door, it was actually the opposite that took place.
Writers who had moved up the ranks in the entertainment sector were being brought back down a level to fill the shoes of the writers on strike. Although they had to take a pay cut, producers were more keen to keep “seasoned” writers in the business, meaning the pathway for newbies was cut off.
There were a few writers who jumped at the chance to squeeze their way in through the gaps, including the likes of Nick Bernadone who worked alongside Tina Fey and on numerous hit Netflix shows.
The Birth of Streaming Services
Do you know what else happened in 2007? The Netflix uproar.
One of the effects of the strike was it being somewhat of a base for the massive growth we were about to see in streaming services, such as Hulu and Netflix.
It became clear to the industry that a power shift was about to take place when the WGA refused to sign a contract that didn’t include “new media residuals.” This meant that writers wanted to be paid from the shows they scripted that ended up on platforms like Netflix, even though they weren’t originally made for Netflix.
How I Met Your Mother is a great example of this. The scriptwriters of this popular show were compensated for the work they did even once it started streaming on Netflix, which skyrocketed its views.
While it may have initially seemed like reality TV was about to blow every other show out of the water, the growth of streaming services turned this all around, giving writers their moment back.
Are We Still Seeing These Issues in the Industry?
Although the 100 day strike has passed us by over 15 years ago, are these issues still a dark cloud over Hollywood?
At the end of 2022, reports of a writers strike occurring began to loom across the Internet as members of the WGA spoke about their dissatisfaction with current contracts.
While we move away from the original forms of distribution from 2007, like DVD residuals, writers are now reflecting on their “next to nothing” pay rates for shows on streaming services.
The rules are a little different for streaming platforms than traditional cable. Viewers are turning to mini-series with hour-long episodes, which require fewer writers from the beginning and leaving little room for new writers to make their mark.
So, the question is, are we back in the same boat as we were in 2007?
In terms of reality TV shows and blockbuster films, not so much. With regards to the influx of viral series on Netflix that seem to be marginalizing (or completely cutting out) dozens of writers, most likely.
Overall, there needs to be a significant change in pre-episode compensation for writers to shorten the gap between working and earning and to allow them to pay their bills and make a sustainable living from what they love most—being a writer!
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