DUMBSTRUCK, THE STORY CONTINUES: The writer’s guild strike in Hollywood revved up yesterday with the news that the writer/producers behind shows like Desperate Housewives have either downed their tools or gone the work to rule route, a move that hastens the end of new programming quicker than the networks anticipated.
A Los Angeles Times story described how writer/producers such as Marc Cherry and about a hundred other highly-paid writers with roles producing their own shows showed off their new “United Showrunners” baseball caps and picketed studios and productions offices across the city. Ten writer/producers walking the line outside the set of The Office shut the show down for the day when star Steve Carell refused to cross the picket line. The networks are running out of new shows faster than they expected thanks to tactics like this, which cuts the nerve centre right out of a production.
“When we're off the job, pretty much everything stops," Cherry told the Times. During the 1988 strike, showrunners such as Cherry were marginalized by the networks and defined as more management than talent, but there’s been a proliferation of writer/producers in the industry since then, and they’ve decided to take a more active part in the new strike.
“For years, the industry has tried to divide show runners from the rank-and-file writing staff," said Patric Verrone, president of WGA West, outside the Disney Studios picket line. "And this time, we're just not buying it.”
The Times also pointed out that showrunners and writer/producers are “among Hollywood's wealthiest employees and could better afford a strike than many rank-and-file screenwriters,” but after last year’s television season definitively proved that delays in airing new episodes can be fatal for a show, many of them are being forced to ponder the idea of new shows withering away after years of pitching, negotiations and turnaround.
“I feel like my child is in school but there's a restraining order that I can't come within 500 feet of it,” said Bryan Fuller, creator of Pushing Daisies, one of the few bona fide hits of the new season. “I have to look at the bigger picture and say, 'How much can I do without betraying the guild and how much can't I do without betraying my show?' It's a horrible position to be put in.”
Of course, there’s always good news, and Newsday provided it right on time. “By Christmas, there will be no 'Law and Order' shooting in (New York)," said Warren Leight, producer of Law and Order: Criminal Intent, outside Silvercup Studios in Long Island City. "It's the first time you can say that in 17 years, except for a few hiatuses.” The bad news, of course, is that it looks like American Idol will return early next year like the four horsemen of the apocalypse, laying waste to an already smoking and devastated landscape.