‘Abbott Elementary’ Showrunner Says Studios Have ‘Eroded’ Writers’ Ability to Make a Living as Guild Authorizes Strike

“As writers, we are not going to allow ourselves to be undervalued and unable to make a living,” Justin Halpern tells TheWrap

“Abbott Elementary” co-showrunner Justin Halpern, on the same day the Writers Guild of America’s vote to authorize a strike was overwhelmingly affirmed, said studio-enforced barriers have made screenwriters’ chances for earning a living wage nearly impossible.

“We have to make writing a viable career for all the people who get into this skill,” Halpern told TheWrap. “This business is tough enough as it is, and you’re able to break into this business, you need to be paid a living wage to be able to live in Los Angeles, one of the most expensive cities in the world, so the studios have sort of eroded that ability.”

The ABC sitcom, which airs the finale for its sophomore installment on Wednesday, April 19, is slated to reconvene its writers’ room for its third season on May 1 — the deadline for Writers Guild of America leaders and studios to reach a new mutual bargaining agreement. On Monday, WGA members voted in favor of authorizing the union’s leaders to order a strike if a tentative agreement was not reached by the deadline.

“I hope that we are able to come to an agreement, and that it won’t affect ‘Abbott’ production at all,” Halpern said. “But as writers, we are not going to allow ourselves to be undervalued and unable to make a living.”

While Halpern added that the ability for most WGA members to make a living has been deteriorating for the last 20 years, he noted that the “existential crisis” facing writers has gone into “hyper speed” over the last six or seven years.

Monday’s vote, which was published by the WGA, resulted in 9,218 members, or 97.85% of the overall vote, voting in favor of strike authorization, with only 198 votes against.

“Our membership has spoken,” the WGA negotiating committee said in a memo. “You have expressed your collective strength, solidarity, and the demand for meaningful change in overwhelming numbers. Armed with this demonstration of unity and resolve, we will continue to work at the negotiating table to achieve a fair contract for all writers.”

“Abbott Elementary,” which is led by co-showrunners Halpern and Patrick Schumacker, was created by Quinta Brunson and stars Brunson, Sheryl Lee Ralph, Tyler James Williams and Lisa Ann Walter as teachers in a Philadelphia public elementary school.