Hollywood’s longest work stoppage since 1988 ends on this day in 2008, when members of the Writers Guild of America (WGA) vote by a margin of more than 90 percent to go back to work after a walkout that began the previous November 5.
The writers’ strike began during the negotiation of the WGA’s latest contract with the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers (AMPTP), which represents over 300 production companies. Negotiations stalled after WGA members demanded a share of the revenues generated by movies, television shows and other works distributed on the Internet and viewed on computers, cell phones and other new-media devices.
Heavily covered by the press, the walkout proved to be much more damaging to the entertainment industry than expected. More than 60 TV shows had to be shut down, causing a drop in ratings and the loss of tens of millions of dollars in ad revenue for the networks. By the end, the strike was estimated to have cost the local L.A. economy more than $3 billion, taking into account lost wages for writers and crew members, lost business for service industries such as catering and equipment rental and reduced consumer spending. For the duration of the strike, TV viewers at home were forced to go without new episodes of their favorite shows, as networks dealt with the shutdown of production by loading the schedule with reruns and increased amounts of reality programming (such as a revamped version of the 1990s hit American Gladiators).
Negotiators reached a tentative agreement on February 8, and both the East Coast and West Coast branches of the WGA ratified the deal on February 10. Two days later, the writers themselves approved the truce, and a new contract with the AMPTP was signed February 25. Based in part on a deal signed the previous month between production companies and the Directors Guild of America, the new contract gave WGA members residual payments for programs streamed online (at a much higher rate than that paid for DVDs) and formalized union jurisdiction over programming created for the Web. Writers would be paid for shows streamed on advertising-supported Web sites and WGA members hired to write original content for the Web would be covered under a union contract.
Though labor experts and WGA supporters heralded the outcome as an important victory for the striking writers, the contract included several key concessions. Studios could hire non-union writers to work on low-budget Internet shows, for example, and no residuals would be paid to writers for repeat shows viewed online within a few weeks after the original show aired on television. The strike also failed to win the union jurisdiction over the ever-more-important realms of reality programming and animation.
Still, in an email message to East and West Coast writers groups quoted in the New York Times, Patric M. Verrone, president of the West Coast guild, and Michael Winship, his East Coast counterpart, stressed the positive ending to the 2007-08 writers’ strike: “Much has been achieved, and while this agreement is neither perfect nor perhaps all that we deserve for the countless hours of hard work and sacrifice, our strike has been a success.”