But the possibilities that many writers explored while off work have led them to believe it's time for a more fundamental change.
"The strike has caused skepticism and acrimony toward the studio system. Because of that, a lot of writers are doing their own website and creating content so that they don't need the studios' help," says Dyan Traynor, a WGA writer who has penned several pilots for Fox and A&E.
Premium content from established writers is already finding a place and audience online. Top comedy writer Seth MacFarlane ("Family Guy") has inked a deal for an animated series directly for the Internet. Award-winning dramatic writers Marshall Herskovitz and Ed Zwick ("thirtysomething," "Once and Again") are other prime examples of writers who set up shop on the Internet.
This past fall, the writing duo took their new drama "quarterlife" directly to the Internet instead of shopping a traditional pilot to a broadcast network. More important, they funded it themselves and then turned around and licensed it to NBC, who will begin airing it next week, thus reversing a decades-old pattern of being writers for hire.
Smuts and others say enough writers will be launching their own programs – some licensed to a single website, some available across the Web, and some available by subscription – that the practice is likely to be considered mainstream in two years. The expansion of broadband access, which makes the streaming of digital content practical, is also driving the trend: As of October, more than 50 percent of US adults had broadband, up from 9 percent in 2001.