If the Writers Guild of America walks out Tuesday, it will be the guild’s seventh strike since 1960. And if history is an indicator, it will likely last for several months. All six strikes have lasted for at least three months, except for a two-week walkout in 1985.
The most recent strike remains fresh in the minds of show business, even though it took place nearly a decade ago. The acrimonious 100-day work stoppage, fueled by the WGA’s demand for new media residuals and jurisdiction, started Nov. 5, 2007, and ended Feb. 12, 2008.
The most affected were late-night staples, scripted series, and shows such as “30 Rock” and “The Simpsons,” which were forced to shorten their seasons. Films that were in production, such as the James Bond movie “Quantum of Solace,” were unable to use screenwriters for script revisions. Ceremonies for the 65th Golden Globe Awards were replaced by a news conference where the winners were announced after striking writers threatened to picket the event, prompting the celebrities planning to attend to boycott the awards rather than cross picket lines.
The WGA and the Alliance of Motion Picture and Televisions Producers had begun negotiating after the strike started on Nov. 26 but those talks cratered on Dec. 7. The Directors Guild of America reached a deal on a new master contract six weeks later and the WGA settled three weeks after that.
The strike gave the WGA a foothold in new media revenues, based on the formulas in the DGA deal. During the strike, production companies turned to non-union reality TV and terminated many writing deals under the force majeure provisions.
The longest strikes came in 1988, which lasted 22 weeks — a week longer than the 1960 strike. That first strike, waged against the Alliance of Television Film Producers and film studios producing TV shows, resulted in payment of $600,000 into the writers’ pension and health funds, 5% of the studio’s income from pre-1960 movies shown on television, and 2% of post-1960 movies. TV writers obtained increases in minimum wages along with a 4% royalty on all reruns.
In 1973, the WGA went on strike for three-and-a-half months for increased wages and better health benefits. Eight years later, the WGA went out for 13 weeks for a share of the revenue from cable television and home video.
In 1985, the WGA went on strike from March 5 to March 19 over royalties from videocassette sales. At the time, the companies contended that home video was an unproven market, so the WGA agreed to small percentages (0.3% for the first $1 million and 0.36% after) as a residual. But as costs for VHS video tapes dropped and and DVD became the prevailing format, writers argued that they had been shortchanged — and that resentment was a major factor as the WGA mobilized members ahead of the 2007-08 strike.
During 2007, the issue of increasing DVD residuals was a key demand for the WGA along with jurisdiction over reality TV and animation writing. The WGA removed the increased DVD residual demand in an effort to avert a strike on the night before the strike began.
The 1988 strike issues included residuals from foreign and domestic reruns, and the TV residuals payment formula. The work stoppage forced the major TV networks to delay the start of their fall 1988 schedule as new and returning TV series’ debuts began in late October and November.
The Writers Guild of America and the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers have until midnight on Monday to come to an agreement on their master contracts. A strike will occur Tuesday morning if said deadline passes.