The Writers Guild of America (WGA) has gone on strike for the first time in more than 15 years, as Hollywood writers picket for better pay in the streaming age, and job protection against AI technology.
When the WGA last went on strike, no-one had heard of ChatGPT and Netflix was still known primarily as a DVD rental service (it only began online streaming in January 2007), and Disney+, Apple TV+, Paramount+, and BritBox were all more than a decade away from launching.
Yet new media was a focal point of the 2007 strike, a major period of industrial action that had a huge impact on TV and film production, delaying many shows, shortening others, and resulting in some of the worst films of the decade landing in cinemas.
As the WGA continues its latest strike action, we look back on the writers' strike of 2007, why it happened, its effect on film and TV, and what it achieved.
What was the 2007 writers' strike about?
The 2007 strike began when the WGA failed to reach an agreement over a new contract with the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers (AMPTP) which represents almost 400 US film and TV producers.
Writers wanted a new deal on DVD residuals, the role of their union in reality and animation programming, and more compensation for content released on ‘new media’ which at the time referred to online and streaming services.
Which shows were affected by the 2007 writers' strike?
Several shows continued to air regular episodes as producers used non-union writers during the course of the strike - these included soap operas All My Children, As the World Turns, General Hospital, One Life to Live, and The Young and the Restless, as well as children’s series Power Rangers.
Many major shows saw their seasons cut short by the strike, with fateful consequences - the first season of Breaking Bad was reduced from nine episodes to seven. Dean Norris’s character Hank Schrader was initially supposed to be killed at the end of the first season, but the episodes were never written. Hank went on to become a major character, appearing in all five seasons of the show.
Prison Break lost nine episodes from its third season, the first series of Gossip girl was reduced by four episodes, House season four lost eight, season four of The Office was nine episodes light, and season seven of Scrubs was cut from 18 episodes to 13.
One of the biggest losers due to the strike was Heroes as the second season was more than halved from a planned 24 episodes to just 11. Producers had to rework the show with one planned volume scrapped and another pushed forward to season three. Audiences saw a sharp drop in quality between the first two seasons and the show was eventually cancelled after season four in 2010.
As has been the case with this month’s strike, late night talk shows were the first to be affected in 2007. Many of these shows including Late Night with Conan O'Brien, Jimmy Kimmel Live!, Late Show with David Letterman, and Saturday Night Live could not air new material as the shows are usually written the same day that they air. Instead reruns were used to fill the schedule spot.
David Letterman and Conan O'Brien were among the late night hosts who refused to appear during the strike out of solidarity with their writers - they also paid their writing staff from their own pocket over the strike period.
Which films were affected by the 2007 writers' strike?
Films were more resilient to the writers' strike because once a film script is completed, less changes are typically made during shooting than is the case with TV. However, some major movies were seriously impacted by the 2007 strike.
The most infamous example is the Bond movie Quantum of Solace. Daniel Craig’s second outing as Bond followed the very popular Casino Royale but failed to meet expectations and is recognised as one of the weakest Bond films of all time. The plot of Quantum of Solace was even more meandering and convoluted than your average James Bond movie - Craig stepped in to work on the script himself as filming was taking place because professional writers were not available.
X-Men Origins: Wolverine also suffered from the strike - Ryan Reynolds, who played Wade Wilson in the film said that he had to write his lines himself. The script was reportedly rushed out in the hope that it would be completed before the strike began.
Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen was panned on its release, with even the director, Michael Bay, later admitting that the action sequel wasn’t good. As the strike came when producers only had a rough draft of the script to work from, Bay stepped in to pen the rest of the movie himself. He has no other writing credits to his name, and it’s not hard to work out why.
How long did the 2007 writers' strike last?
The strike began on 5 November 2007 and ended on 12 February 2008, lasting 100 days. Various estimates of the cost of the strike to the economy of Los Angeles have been suggested, ranging from $500 million to $2.1 billion.
Did the striking writers get what they wanted in 2007?
One major success for the strikers was a change to rules governing streaming services - it ensured that streaming platforms would have to hire WGA writers on shows over a certain budget. Writers were also guaranteed residuals for their shows when they were reused on streaming platforms. In 2007 the value that streaming would have in the world of TV wasn’t known, but it is now clear that streaming is a huge industry.
This meant that when, in the 2010s major streamers like Amazon Prime and Netflix began creating original content, they had to hire WGA writers.
However, the WGA is once again on strike, and one of their main aims is to ensure that the amount writers working on content released on streaming services make is similar to what writers on traditional TV shows earn.