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October 10, 2015

TV production halts as showrunners refuse to cross WGA picket lines

by Liz Finn-Arnold, posted Nov 7th 2007 9:36AM
Julia Louis-Dreyfus and Wanda Sykes on the WGA picket lineIt's Day Three of the WGA Strike, and things are getting serious. Production on some scripted sitcoms and dramas is already coming to screeching halt -- despite the fact that completed scripts have yet to be shot.

Sitcoms which have already gone dark are: The New Adventures of Old Christine, Back to You, 'Til Death, and Rules of Engagement. And with Steve Carrell refusing to cross the picket line, The Office has shut down for business, as well.

Meanwhile, Shonda Rhimes (Grey's Anatomy, Private Practice) and Shawn Ryan (The Shield, The Unit) have publicly stated that they won't perform their showrunner responsibilities either. Without their showrunners, these high profile dramas will most likely cease production earlier than networks expected.

On Saturday, approximately 100 showrunners met, and planned a picketing session of showrunners only that will take place today (November 7) at Disney-ABC. The showrunners are hoping that their show of support will convince management to end the strike sooner rather than later.

Showrunners are in a tough position because they are writers AND part of management. Many of them risk hurting (maybe even killing) the shows they lovingly created if they pull the plug on production. Silvio Horta, creator-exec producer of Ugly Betty, said, "it's your baby, and you want to protect it. But none of us want to be in a position where we're helping producers get more episodes out of us."

Reportedly, some showrunners are technically not crossing picket lines, but are still "working from home" to put finishing touches on their shows. This surely weakens the WGA's bargaining power. Also, at least one studio exec doesn't feel threatened by the showrunners' support. The exec told Variety that showrunners are offering a "symbolic show of support" but will probably be back to work in a couple of days.

I still hope that this strike is resolved quickly. But it's only Day Three. And I have a feeling the longer it lasts, the uglier it's going to get.

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I think the main reason the networks are going to fight this tooth and nail is to avoid setting a precedent. Since SAG is going to want some of the same things next year. The networks are not going to loose as much as last time. They have reality TV, and the people will watch. Maybe not as many as they'd like, but enough that will keep the TV sponsers playing their ads. The little fish in the game have a long and hard journey a head of them. It is a game of survial and I think the networks will win in the end. They have the most to loose in the end after all. Right now the writers get 4 cents for DVD sales, they want 8 and a cut in the internet. I do believe they are wanting back money as well. This will kill a few networks, believe it or not. So I hope they can come up with a happy medium. For as much as I understand what the writers are asking for, I feel used and abused like any consumer would, since we are the ones caught in the middle. Especially with November sweeps happening. As I support what they are doing, I'm divided in how it's all playing out. I would not have felt this way if they'd walked out at the beginning of the season. And YES I know this is their most powerful hold they have on the networks, it still sort of rubs me the wrong way. So both the writers and the networks will share in my resentment towards this whole affiair.

November 16 2007 at 8:19 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Actually, if they win then SAG will go on strike next year so they can get more royalities as well is what is being bantered about. It sounds like they all need to think about what is best in the long run. If the writers do get everything they want, it will crush some of the smaller networks. But yet, they do deserve most of what they are asking for. The bad is if you give into the writers, then come the actors. The sad news is the networks can and most like will sit this out until the writers can't hold out...Networks have more resources to get them through a long strike then what the writers have. Networks have reality TV that will bring in more revenue. So, it is going to be a bad time for TV and movies over the next couple of years. For if they do settle with the writers, we have the actors next year who is sitting back and taking notes on this strike........

November 16 2007 at 7:59 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

RE the previous commentor: I didn't know Dick Cheney posts here! Big Brother indeed. I was beginning to wonder why they started contests like "The Waterboard" and "Warrantless Wiretap" on that show. Now I know.

November 09 2007 at 10:24 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

This is so sweet. Finally I'll get to clear all this touchy feely crap off my DVR that my wife makes me watch. I don't care if they ever make another episode of Private Practice or Grey's Anatomy. And the five geeks that watch the Office will also have to get a life.
Bring on Big Brother 7 nights a week!!!!!

November 08 2007 at 7:52 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply


Are you expected to create software programs for months or even years on end with no compensation, working toward the day when your company might decide to produce your program and then, and only then, pay you?

Did you company ask you to take a pay cut 20 years ago in order to see if they could make the software industry more profitable, promise that as soon as that happened they would pay you more, and then go back on their word?

If your company labeled your software as a "promotional product," would that allow them to not have to pay you?

Do you think that musicians should be paid a set fee to record an album, and never see any royalties from the sales of their CDs?

Do you think that songwriters and authors deserve no royalties on their songs and books? And if an author's book is made into a movie, do you think the author should have no right to make money from that transaction?

Creative fields cannot always be directly compared to other jobs.

November 07 2007 at 8:52 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

@dpratt-- I think that you, like most people, don't know enough about how the TV industry works to fully understand what's going on here. In many ways, the deal that the writers currently have is similar to your own: they get paid to write an episode that is broadcast. This is the part that I think most people are unclear on: if the episode is never re-broadcast or shown in any other format, the writers never see another dime. In fact, the networks are actually buying a window in which they are allowed to air the episode some number of times. If they don't ever break the confines of that window, no more money exchanges hands. Residuals only kick in if those episodes are reaired, sold into syndication, etc.

The major sticking point with the union right now is that they have a bum rate for recorded media (DVDs, VHS, etc. because 20 years ago, no one anticipated that studios would be making about 50% of their income off of these media) and refuse to be swindled again on new media -- basically online, streaming, downloads. The Guild's position is that so long as the studios are making money on these media (which can be thought of as rebroadcasts of a sort) that residuals should be paid as they always have been in the older media.

Now, I understand that, when compared to someone in your line of work, the writers seem to be asking for more than that to which they are entitled. However, when you signed on at your company, I would imagine that you knew upfront that your salary was the extent of your compensation, regardless of the income generated by your work. This is not the case for writers. The working model in the entertainment industry (music, TV, film, theater) is that creative forces are continually compensated so long as the fruits of their labor continue to create income. Right now, the writers' are just working to guarantee that they will be fairly compensated regardless of how the studios decide to distribute the content which the writers created.

November 07 2007 at 6:39 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

praesil, I should have clarified by saying I think it might be an uphill battle getting average tv viewers on their side, considering that most of the shows on television now are absolute crap.
And for the record, I do not consider TV Squad bloggers or readers to be average tv viewers.

November 07 2007 at 3:48 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply


What about authors? If publishing companies had to pay them a set salary for producing books and gave them no royalties, they would be free to make as much money from the books sales as they could and keep all the profits to themselves. But they don't. Instead, authors are paid some money (sometimes a fee, sometimes an advance on royalties, depending on the type of book) and then paid royalties. That way, the publishing company and the author share in the risk and share in the reward.

I think if I suggested putting Stephen King on a $50,000-a-year salary and letting his publisher keep all the profits, people would think I was crazy. Not only that, but Stephen King might figure it isn't worth using his creativity only to make his publisher more money, so he might quit and move on to a field where he could make better money.

And if I suggested that a publisher pay a beginning writer $200,000 a year with no idea whether or not his or her books would sell, I think people would think I was even crazier. And why should a publisher hand over money before he knows whether or not the book will sell?

The system for movie and television writers is different, but in my opinion the principles share some commonalities.

November 07 2007 at 3:17 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

@10 and 11

I understand completely what is going on. They want more money, it is as simple as that. They didn't bother to negotiate BEFORE they did a project and don't like that they aren't getting residuals on different ways of selling a product. The "guild/union" is screwing these people over, it does not help them it hurts them. Unions were good back in the day when a worker was being screwed over by horrible hours, below living wages, and brutal treatment. There are now laws in place to prevent those things. The only reasons unions exist now is to pad their pocketbooks and to screw over the people that are forced to be members of them.

The way I look at it is that they wrote it, they didn't act, direct, produce or do anything but write it. They got paid for the words they wrote. Go write something else and next time negotiate a better contract instead of going to cry to your union reps about your unfair treatment.

A lot more goes into the studios making millions off a movie or show than the writing. They get paid for what they write and now they are greedy and want more.

November 07 2007 at 2:36 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
David P

I work for an enterprise software company. I am an architect and head engineer on a product that my company regularly sells for millions of dollars. I am paid very well for my efforts. I do not receive, nor ask for, royalties on the sales of the product. Myself, nor any of my peers, feel we have any sort of moral obligation to that money. In fact, if we stood up en masse and asked for it, we'd most likely be fired on the spot and replaced.

Why, again, is this any different from what the hollywood writers are doing? They produce a product that their employers turn around and make lots of money with. If I was a studio executive, I'd immediately fire every single writer that works for me, and offer slightly more money to any non-union writer that wished to work for me.

Unions are counterproductive and damaging to any industry that they touch.

November 07 2007 at 1:27 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

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