Studios demand striking showrunners return to work

(Members of the Writers Guild of America East and their supporters strike outside the Peacock Upfronts on Fifth Avenue, CREDIT: rblfmr, Shutterstock)

In a show of union-busting solidarity, Disney and Warner Bros. Discovery have sent letters, from their respective legal departments to striking showrunners who are employed by the company’s various studios. The letter reminds them that they still are under contract and demands them to perform non-writing services.

According to a story, which appeared in yesterday’s Hollywood Reporter, the Disney letter came from the legal department of ABC Signature, owned by Disney. Written by the assistant chief counsel Bob McPhail, It reads:

“We want specifically to reiterate to you as a showrunner or other writer-producer that you are not excused from performing your duties as a showrunner and/or producer on your series as a result of the WGA strike. Your personal services agreement with [the] Studio requires that you perform your showrunner and/or producing duties even if the WGA attempts to fine you for performing such services during the strike. Your duties as a showrunner and/or producer are not excused, suspended or terminated until and unless you are so notified in writing by the Studio.”

The letter is dated May 3, which was the second day of the Writers Guild of America’s (WGA) strike against members of the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers (AMPTP), which represents studios and streamers.

Writers have hit the picket lines in Los Angeles and New York this week (reportedly with Chicago and Atlanta next) as they seek a new contract that would increase pay and benefits for writers by $429 million over three years. The AMPTP has countered with an offer of $86 million in return. 

The Guild also wants assurance that the art of writing itself is protected. The demands range from stopping projects being “written” by A.I. to the role of writers’ rooms from start to finish on TV shows.

The Max letter, sent on May 2, argues that showrunners should come to work, despite the guild’s insistence that “no members should cross a WGA picket line or enter the premises of a struck company for any purpose.”

“HBO/HBO Max respects your membership in the WGA, and will not do anything to place you in jeopardy of violating WGA rules. However, we believe certain services, such as participating in the casting process and/or contributing to non-writing production and post-production work are clear examples of non-WGA required services that should continue to be rendered during this time.”

According to THR, the memo added, “The WGA cannot prohibit you from rendering producing services pursuant to your personal services agreement as long as you are providing non-writing services.”

The Disney letter also features a Q&A informing showrunners that they are “required” to perform duties that are not in line with the guidance provided by the WGA to its around 11,500 striking members.

The memo specifically states that in showrunner and/or writer-producer roles, “you may, along with other non-writing services, be required to perform services commonly referred to as ‘a. thorough h.’ services as a producer,” such as cutting for time, small changes to dialogue or narration made before or during production and “changes in technical or stage directions.” These are duties that, according to the WGA’s contract, non-writers can perform on covered projects.

WGA strike rules explicitly prohibit union members from performing these activities during the 2023 work stoppage. “The Rules prohibit hyphenates (members who are employed in dual capacities) from performing any writing services, including the ‘(a) through (h)’ functions,” the rules state, which puts showrunners and writer-producers in a difficult position, caught between the dictates of their employers and their union.

Read the full ABC Signature letter below:

ABC Letter Ongoing Obligations Page 1


ABC Letter Ongoing Obligations Page 2
ABC Letter Ongoing Obligations Page 3
ABC Letter Ongoing Obligations Page 4
ABC Letter Ongoing Obligations Page 5

No new talks have been set and writers are expected to resume picketing in front of the studios, Monday.

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