Words by Charlie McAteer
On May 2, 2023, the Writers Guild of America went on strike due to an ongoing labour dispute with the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers. The WGA is made up of over 11,000 writers in film and television, and its purpose is to protect the writers in the union and ensure that the writers responsible for creating these projects receive a fair wage and rights regarding their work. The WGA and the AMPTP negotiate deals every three years, with the last deal signed in the middle of the 2020 COVID-19 pandemic.
The 2023 writers’ strike is about defending the writers right to a liveable wage and defending their work against the increased use of AI in the entertainment industry. The WGA submitted a proposal to limit the use of AI technology to rewrite scripts or use scripts to train AI, but the AMPTP rejected the proposal.
Another part of the strike is about wages. A report published by the Union itself found that half of the registered television series writers are currently being paid the basic minimum rate, with streaming making it worse. Television programmes on streaming services have uncertain futures, leading to lower pay and higher chances of the programme being cancelled.
The last time a writers strike occurred was 16 years ago, and lasted from November 5th, 2007, to February 12th, 2008. The strike was started because the WGA sought increased funding for writers in comparison to the profits of larger studios. It was targeted at the AMPTP, which is made up of important studios such as Warner Brothers, Disney, Lionsgate, and Sony.
The writers went back and forth with studios like these for 100 days before reaching an agreement that compensated them for their hard work. During those 100 days, many films and television shows were affected by the writers on strike. TV shows had shortened seasons, scripts, or extended hiatuses, and movies had incomplete or bland scripts. Here is a list of a few shows and films and how they were affected.
NBC’s Heroes was one of TV’s first dives into superheroes before Marvel started really getting into its own superheroes. Heroes followed a group of unexpected heroes who helped save the world. Its approach to the story, emulating classic comic books, was different for the time and garnered a large fanbase. Due to the strike, its second season, subtitled Generations, had its episode number cut short. Only 11 out of 24 episodes aired, with no episodes filmed after the strike ended. This led to the show being cancelled in September 2008, nine months after season 3 ended.
Family Guy (1999-present)
Family Guy is one of the longest running adult animated programmes on television. It managed to return to air after being cancelled in 2002. During the writers’ strike, its sixth season was heavily impacted. The episode total was cut in half, and Fox even produced episodes without creator Seth MacFarlane’s final approval. This led to a strained relationship between MacFarlane and Fox.
Lost is a show many remember for its balance between comedy and drama, its unpredictability, its ensemble cast, and its inconsistent quality after the second series. Lost continued on to last 6 seasons, with its decline in seasons four and five. The strike started during production of the fourth season, with only eight episodes being filmed at that point. The decision to air the completed episodes was made while production was delayed for the rest of the episodes. An additional 6 episodes were filmed after the strike, bringing the total to 16, making it the shortest season of the show.
Breaking Bad (2008-2013)
While many shows did not benefit from the strike, Breaking Bad was one of the only shows that did. Fan favourite characters like Hank Schrader weren’t supposed to make it past season one. Due to two episodes being cut off of Season One’s original 9 episode count, Hank’s death was cut out of the script. Aaron Paul’s Jesse Pinkman was also supposed to be killed off, but due to the strike, creator Vince Gilligan had time to consider his fate. Gilligan was impressed with Paul’s performance as Jesse and kept him on the show.
Quantum of Solace (2008)
The original script for Quantum of Solace was finished two hours before the strike was called, leaving cast, crew, and production in the lurch. This meant that script changes were unable to be made on the fly, causing the script to be uninteresting and stale. In a later interview, Daniel Craig admitted to writing parts of the script himself, as they were only left with the basic outline of a potential script. The film is also the shortest in the modern James Bond franchise, at only 1 hour, 46 minutes.
Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen (2009)
Michael Bay’s Transformers movies have always been criticised, due to the lack of lack of character depth, visual style and storytelling. Bay himself said that the film was “crap” and that it was restraining to have only three weeks to make the story without a real script. He filled in a lot of missing spaces in the original script which was derailed by the strike.
Terminator Salvation (2009)
The script for Terminator Salvation was rushed to be completed ahead of the upcoming strike. Director McG has said that the script needed a major rewrite, but with the strike ending in February 2008 and production starting in May 2008, there wasn’t enough time. Salvation is criticised for being visually off, unlike any other film in the franchise. The rating was changed from MA15+ to M in order to appeal to a wider audience. That decision didn’t mesh well with the rest of the franchise after Salvation.
So why is this still happening?
Streaming becoming more popular than mainstream television is the cause. Writing for a traditional multi-season cable show, like The Sopranos and The Vampire Diaries, provides more financial stability than writing for a Netflix show like I Am Not Okay, which was cancelled after one season. With more Netflix Originals and Disney+ Originals being made direct to streaming, this is one of the problems that arose with the 2007 writers’ strike: the company’s inability to properly provide for their workers.
Most writers’ rooms with traditional television had a room of a dozen writers, who wrote around 20 episodes a year. This differs greatly from the norm now, which is around 6–8 writers on staff working on shorter contracts. This can lead to writers going from show to show, which is not as stable as the 20-episode season a year.
This is why a strike is so important: to give our writers a voice and to be creative in many different ways. With the right people, television can be magical. It can be moving. It can be brilliant. I hope that for our future in entertainment, our writers will be paid fair.