8 TV Shows That Were Creatively Altered by a Writers Strike

Ben Leuner, AMC
Ben Leuner, AMC

Thirty years ago today, the longest strike in the history of the Writers Guild of America began, and lasted a full 155 days, affecting everything from MacGyver to Tim Burton's Batman. Writers strikes have a major impact on TV and film production. Depending on the strike’s length, dozens of film and TV projects can be suspended, delayed, or even canceled, and rebounding when a strike is over isn’t exactly easy, either. (Many people have cited the 1988 strike as part of the reason for the cancellations of both Moonlighting and Kate & Allie.)

Numerous TV series have had to return from strike to a kind of creative reboot, from rewriting single episodes to devising entirely new finales. Here are eight of them.

1. BREAKING BAD

An enduring legend about Breaking Bad sprung up around the 2007-08 Writers Guild of America strike. According to that version of events, Jesse Pinkman (Aaron Paul) was originally set to be killed off by the show’s writers, but when the strike occurred and forced the show to cut its first season from nine to seven episodes, some hard thinking about the show’s structure led to the decision to keep Pinkman around. It turns out that’s only partially true, as creator Vince Gilligan has since noted that he’d decided not to let Paul go by the second episode of the show. The strike did fundamentally alter the show’s overall plot progression, though.

Those final two episodes in season one would have originally given us two fast-paced hours in which Walter White (Bryan Cranston) would have very quickly become the drug kingpin known as Heisenberg. With the strike standing in the way of that, Gilligan and company threw those episodes out and took a more careful approach to bringing out Heisenberg. That meant a slower pace, but an awesome three-episode arc to kick off the second season.

2. STAR TREK: THE NEXT GENERATION

The 1988 Writers Guild of America strike was the longest in the organization’s history, and its long run cut into the production of a number of series, among them the second season of Star Trek: The Next Generation. As a result of the strike’s duration, the season order was shortened from 26 episodes to 22, and with a shorter production window, the show went looking for script sources beyond the standard writers room. As a result, the season premiere episode “The Child” was adapted from a script originally written for the aborted Star Trek: Phase II TV series in the late 1970s. Producers also began mining the “slush pile” of submitted spec scripts from outside writers and found “The Measure of a Man,” by attorney-turned-writer Melinda M. Snodgrass. The script became the ninth episode of the season, and Snodgrass was hired as the show’s story editor.

3. HEROES

After starting off red hot with huge ratings and critical acclaim, the second season of the comic book-inspired NBC series Heroes suffered a ratings decline and attacks from fans due to new characters that took time away from the old ones, a time travel storyline that seemed to drag on too long, and romances that pulled attention way from the show’s super-powered action. It got so bad that creator Tim Kring admitted mistakes in an Entertainment Weekly interview. But the writers strike offered Kring and company a chance to rethink and restructure.

The strike limited the show’s second season to just 11 episodes, and sensing that a change needed to come, Kring reshot the ending of that season’s eventual finale, ”Powerless,” in order to scrap a planned plague storyline that would have made up season two’s second half. The planned fourth “volume” of the series, “Villains,” became the third, and the show carried on for two more seasons.

4. BATTLESTAR GALACTICA

The hit sci-fi series only had one episode of its final “Season 4.5” run completed when the 2007-08 strike hit, and the situation felt so dire at the time that the cast was convinced during filming that said episode—“Sometimes A Great Notion”—would be the show’s last. The series did return to produce 10 more hours to end its run, and, like Heroes, the strike actually gave creator Ronald D. Moore a chance to rethink the planned ending of the show.

“There was a different ending that we had, it was all about Ellen aboard the Colony,” Moore told io9. “She was sort of turned by Cavil, because she found out that Tigh had impregnated Caprica Six, and that deeply embittered her. And she sort of became dedicated to the idea of destroying Galactica and the fleet out of revenge. And [she and Cavil] got Hera, and then the final confrontation became very personalized between Tigh versus Ellen, and should they forgive.”

“That was the story, generally speaking. We didn't have a lot more than just what I spun out to you, when the writer's strike hit. Over the course of the writer's strike, I rethought about it and thought, ‘That's not going to do it. It's not epic enough. It's not interesting enough.’ That's when we decided to start over, and reinvent the last arc of the show.”

Moore and his writers ultimately devised a different series finale, featuring the daring rescue of Hera Agathon and the discovery of our prehistoric Earth.

5. PUSHING DAISIES

When it premiered in the fall of 2007, Bryan Fuller’s inventive fantasy series was hailed as one of the most original new shows on TV, and developed a rabid fan base eager to learn more about the love story between the Pie Maker (Lee Pace) and the Dead Girl (Anna Friel). Initial enthusiasm for the series led to a full season order in October 2007, just weeks before a writers strike was declared. This meant that the series had to halt production with only nine of its 22 ordered episodes completed. Fuller rewrote episode nine to serve as a season finale, leaving lots of loose ends to entice viewers back. It worked. Pushing Daisies got a second season, but unfortunately didn’t get a third.

6. SCRUBS

The 2007-08 strike interrupted production of the NBC medical sitcom, leaving it hanging in the midst of what was, at the time, expected to be its final season. Creator Bill Lawrence was offered the chance to film an alternate final episode to serve as a series finale should the strike limit the seventh season, but Lawrence declined, hoping he would eventually get to do things his way. When the strike ended, the future of Scrubs was still uncertain. Season seven ended at just 11 episodes, but the show continued to shoot episodes for season eight even as it no longer officially had a network. Ultimately, ABC picked up the series for an eighth season in the spring of 2008, and Scrubs finished its run on that network after a ninth season featuring new lead characters was also produced.

7. 30 ROCK

Tina Fey’s Emmy-winning comedy shut down production during the 2007-08 strike, but the biggest creative consequence of that break wasn’t felt until 2010. While the show was shut down in early 2008, the cast performed a live episode as a benefit at the Upright Citizens Brigade Theatre in New York City. When the strike ended and production resumed, creator Tina Fey and co-showrunner Robert Carlock began having serious discussions with NBC about a live episode broadcast. Though it was originally planned for season four, the episode was rescheduled for season five. Titled “Live Show,” it was finally performed (twice, once for the east coast and once for the west) on October 14, 2010.

8. DR. HORRIBLE’S SING-ALONG BLOG

Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog, the musical webseries from Joss Whedon, wasn’t so much altered by the 2007-08 strike as it was born out of it. Whedon conceived the series, which he calls his “midlife crisis,” during the strike, and actually first mentioned it to co-star Felicia Day on the WGA picket line.

“I asked if you’d seen The Guild. You didn’t have to say anything! But you said, ‘Oh yeah, I saw it and loved it,'” Day recalled in 2015. “You said ‘I’m actually working on a supervillain musical’ and I pooped myself. Later I got an email that was just, ‘Can you sing?’ Signed, ‘J.’ Then I pooped again.”

Whedon financed the series himself, and it was produced in just five months. Today, it remains an early example of the reach and profitability of web-distributed programming.

Rewind Time With This Blockbuster-Themed Party Game

Recapture that '90s vibe with this Blockbuster-themed movie trivia game.
Recapture that '90s vibe with this Blockbuster-themed movie trivia game.
Big Potato Games/Hot Topic

With only one Blockbuster location left in the world, the good old days of wandering video rental store aisles and getting chewed out for late fees are definitely a thing of the past—but like so many relics from the '90s, the pull of nostalgia has ensured that Blockbuster (or at least the brand) won't disappear for good. Now the video store is back in the form of a party game from Big Potato Games that is designed to test the movie knowledge of you and up to 11 friends.

Marketing itself as “a movie game for anyone who has ever seen a movie,” the Blockbuster party game consists of two parts. In part one, players from each team compete head-to-head to name as many movies as they can that fit under specific categories (e.g., movies with Tom Cruise, famous trilogies, movies with planes). In the second half, two teams face off against each other to test their skills at a game of movie-related charades. The catch? Players can only describe movies in one of three randomly chosen ways: acting out scenes, rattling off a famous quote, or describing the films with one word.

The real selling point of the whole package is that Big Potato fit all the game cards and buzzer into a box that is virtually identical to the old-school Blockbuster VHS rental cases, right down to its distinct color scheme and shape. All it's missing is the membership card. 

The Blockbuster board game costs $24 at Hot Topic. That’s a fair price for getting the chance to rewind time.

Mental Floss has affiliate relationships with certain retailers and may receive a small percentage of any sale. But we choose all products independently and only get commission on items you buy and don't return, so we're only happy if you're happy. Thanks for helping us pay the bills!

15 Clever Breaking Bad Easter Eggs Hiding in Better Call Saul

Patrick Fabian, Rhea Seehorn, Bob Odenkirk, Jonathan Banks, Michael Mando, Giancarlo Esposito, and Tony Dalton in Better Call Saul.
Patrick Fabian, Rhea Seehorn, Bob Odenkirk, Jonathan Banks, Michael Mando, Giancarlo Esposito, and Tony Dalton in Better Call Saul.
James Minchin/AMC

As evidenced by Breaking Bad, Vince Gilligan and his cohorts have an eye for detail that’s nearly unrivaled. If anything, Better Call Saul—which is originally set several years before the events of Breaking Bad—only proves the point. The series, which is about to kick off its fifth season, focuses on Jimmy McGill (soon to become Saul Goodman) and is full of references to its progenitor, some of which are pure fun, and some of which add a deeper meaning to what we already know. Here are 15 clever Breaking Bad Easter eggs hiding in Better Call Saul.

**Warning: Plenty of spoilers ahead for both series.**

1. Being Kevin Costner

In a throwaway moment in Breaking Bad, Saul mentions to Walt that he once convinced a woman he was Kevin Costner (“If you’re committed enough, you can make any story work”), and in the finale of the first season of Better Call Saul, we see the exact moment he was referring to. In case we thought that Saul was just making the story up for the sake of a pep talk, here’s the proof otherwise.

2. Neighborhood mainstay

If the diner where Jimmy first meets with the Kettlemans looked familiar to you, it’s for good reason. Loyola’s Diner featured in Breaking Bad as a mainstay of Mike’s—he met with Jesse there, as well as Lydia. It’s also, incidentally, a very real restaurant in Albuquerque. And while we’re on the subject of Mike and food, he’s been shown to be fond of pimento cheese sandwiches in both series.

3. Address unknown

David Costabile as Gale Boetticher in 'Breaking Bad'
Ursula Coyote, AMC

In Better Call Saul, it’s shown that Jimmy's office is at 160 Juan Tabo Boulevard (which is a real nail salon). Those of you with a head for directions might also recall that that’s the same street that the ill-fated chemist Gale Boetticher lives on, at 6353 Juan Tabo Boulevard. Breaking Bad fans were thrilled when the karaoke-loving chemist appeared in Season 4 of Better Call Saul (with hopefully more to come).

4. The Ignacio connection

Michael Mando as Nacho Varga in Better Call Saul
Michael Mando as Nacho Varga in Better Call Saul.
Michele K. Short/AMC/Sony Pictures Television

When he’s kidnapped by Walt and Jesse after refusing to help a busted Badger, Saul spits out a variety of nonsense in an attempt to stay alive. He also drops a name: Ignacio. So who is he talking about? As we learn in Better Call Saul, this refers to Nacho, who’s become one of the secondary leads on the show. “Nacho” is a nickname, short for Ignacio, which makes sense as a connection given how closely he’s been working with Jimmy/Saul.

5. Cheap tricks

Bob Odenkirk and Rhea Seehorn in 'Better Call Saul'
Michele K. Short, AMC/Sony Pictures

There’s another callback to the first time that Walt, Jesse, and Saul meet. Despite still having his hands tied behind his back, when Saul agrees to help Walt and Jesse, he tells them to each put a dollar in his pocket in order to secure attorney-client privilege. It seems that Saul got that idea from Kim, who, when she decides to help Jimmy after discovering he’s falsified evidence, tells him to give her a dollar for exactly the same reason.

6. Old afflictions

Bob Odenkirk as Jimmy McGill and Mel Rodriguez as Marco Pasternak in 'Better Call Saul'
Bob Odenkirk as Jimmy McGill and Mel Rodriguez as Marco Pasternak in Better Call Saul.
Michele K. Short/AMC/Sony Pictures Television

In yet another reference to that fateful first meeting, we learn that Saul isn’t bluffing when he tells Walt and Jesse that he has bad knees. He says the same thing when cops apprehend him in the first season of Better Call Saul. As to why he’s got bad knees to begin with, it all comes from his time as “Slippin’ Jimmy,” when he used to stage falls in order to earn a little bit of money.

7. Car talk

Bryan Cranston and Aaron Paul in 'Breaking Bad'
Ursula Coyote, AMC

Saul Goodman drives a white 1997 Cadillac DeVille with the vanity plate “LWYRUP.” Jimmy McGill’s ride is much more modest: a yellow Suzuki Esteem with a red door. That said, in the pilot of Better Call Saul, we very briefly see a white Cadillac DeVille—Jimmy parks his car next to it, in a truly blink-and-you-miss-it allusion to what’s to come. (Gus, notably, is driving the same blue Volvo in both shows.)

8. Home sweet home

In Better Call Saul, one of the retirement homes that Jimmy visits in his quest to find new clients for his growing elder law business is Casa Tranquila. If it sounds familiar, that's because it's a key location in Breaking Bad as the home of Hector Salamanca, and the place where he kills his longtime nemesis Gus Fring. It’s a nice touch to revisit the location, especially given the fact that Better Call Saul gives us the story as to how Hector wound up in a wheelchair in the first place.

9. What's your poison?

There’s also a nice bit of brand continuity with the made-up tequila Zafiro Añejo. Gus poisons a bottle to get back at Don Eladio in Breaking Bad, and we see the same blue bottle pop up in Better Call Saul when Jimmy and Kim scam a cocky stock broker named Ken. Ken, for his part, seems to be reaping a constant stream of bad karma, as he’s also in Breaking Bad as a victim of Heisenberg’s wrath. He swipes Walt’s parking spot—and has his car set on fire for his trouble.

10. The little piggy

Though Mike is hard as nails, he’s got a soft spot the size of Texas for his granddaughter Kaylee. He gifts her a pink pig plush in Better Call Saul, which crops up again in Breaking Bad under slightly less cute circumstances. He uses the doll as a distraction when an assassination attempt is made on his life.

11. Word games

Giancarlo Esposito as Gus Fring in 'Breaking Bad'
Ursula Coyote, AMC

The first letters of the episode titles of the second season of Better Call Saul are an anagram for “FRING’S BACK.” It’s a granular sort of trick that the creators have pulled off before: four of the episodes of season two of Breaking Bad spell out “Seven Thirty-Seven Down Over ABQ.” In the season finale, a 737 plane does indeed go down over Albuquerque, or ABQ.

12. Sentimental value

Given that Saul’s Breaking Bad office has a lot of strange objects in it, it’d be easy to miss the octagonal desk. As it turns out, the offices of Saul Goodman aren’t the desk’s first home: it’s seen in the background of Kim’s office in Better Call Saul. It’s retroactive, sure, but it’s still nice to know that Saul has some mementos around.

13. Movie night

Bob Odenkirk and Rhea Seehorn in 'Better Call Saul'
Ursula Coyote, AMC/Sony Pictures Television

There’s also a little sentimental value in the name of Saul’s holding company, Ice Station Zebra Associates, which he uses to help Walt launder money in Breaking Bad. As we discover in Better Call Saul, Ice Station Zebra is Kim’s favorite movie, due to her father’s affection for it. Though Kim is physically absent from Breaking Bad, small details seem to tie back to her all the time.

14. Set dressing

Krazy-8, may he rest in peace, also shows up in Better Call Saul. The van that he drives has the logo for Tampico Furniture on it, and he’s wearing a uniform with the logo as well. Tampico is where Walt, as he recalls in Breaking Bad, bought Walter Jr.’s crib. Unfortunately, those fond memories aren’t quite enough to save Krazy-8’s skin.

15. Beware of bugs

Before Mike leaves Philly for Albuquerque, a bartender tells him to be mindful of tarantulas. The spider plays a key role in Breaking Bad later on, as a young boy’s pursuit of the bug puts him in Walt’s path—and Todd’s path, by proxy. Determined to make a good impression on Walt, and knowing that there can’t be any witnesses to what they’re doing, Todd shoots the boy in one of the most shocking and cold-blooded moments in the entire series.

An earlier version of this story ran in 2018.

SECTIONS

arrow
LIVE SMARTER