UPDATE: 10 PM PT 9/11 — Updated with response from WGA.
The Writers Guild of America canceled a scheduled meeting with top Hollywood showrunners, including Kenya Barris and Noah Hawley, on Monday after a week of intense bickering over whether the guild was adequately seeking a resolution to the entertainment industry’s crippling four-month-old strike, TheWrap has learned.
Barris (“Black-ish”), Hawley (“Fargo”) and numerous powerful showrunners have been demanding answers from WGA negotiating leadership — namely chief negotiator Ellen Stutzman and committee co-chairs Chris Keyser and David A. Goodman — to ensure that the guild was motivated to get to a deal.
The showrunners began to reach out for clarification last Tuesday, and the exchanges with WGA leadership was described to TheWrap by an individual with knowledge as intense and emotional, with phone calls between individual showrunners and guild leaders leading to fights, shouting matches and “screaming hangups,” as the individual put it.
The rising fear among some in the industry — including some high-ranking members of the writers’ community — is that the guild leadership is not interested in making a deal, but is intent on holding the line to get its first ask.
Hawley and Barris didn’t immediately respond to TheWrap’s requests for comment. When reached for comment, WGA said in a statement: “This story is not true,” but declined to give any further detail. Guild members on X, formerly Twitter, said that it was the showrunners who canceled the meeting.
The guild and the Hollywood studios — represented by the AMPTP — haven’t negotiated directly since a meeting between the committee and several studio CEOs on Aug. 22 ended with the AMPTP publicly releasing the details of its proposed contract. Last Friday, the guild suggested in a public statement that studios make separate deals with the WGA, which the AMPTP promptly rejected.
A major factor in the renewed freeze in talks between the two sides is a dispute over whether the studios or the guild should provide the next counterproposal to continue talks.
In its memo on Friday, the WGA maintained that it presented its own counterproposal to the publicly released offer from the studios on Aug. 15, four days after it was first presented to the negotiating committee. The guild said that it’s waiting for a formal response to that Aug. 15 offer and blamed the current standstill on “AMPTP paralysis.”
The AMPTP retorted in its statement hours later with its own timeline of the renewed August negotiations, saying that it had talks with the guild on Aug. 16 and 17 on contract terms regarding artificial intelligence use in WGA-covered work. The organization claims that on Aug. 18, the studios “offered further compromises” in response to the guild’s Aug. 15 proposal and that the guild said it would respond within the week.
The AMPTP said in their statement that it “has not heard from the Guild since that time,” though the statement doesn’t make any note of the meeting with the CEOs held on Aug. 22. The individual with knowledge of the WGA’s canceled meeting with showrunners sided with the AMPTP’s account of the talks.
“[The WGA] have not countered. They have held the line with what they went in with,” said the individual. This person also said that Hollywood CEOs have continued to reach out individually to try to break the logjam and spark a true negotiating conversation.
But the individual said, “They’re not cooperating with anyone.”
The individual said some showrunners are considering leaving the union and working independently, a sign of how the trust is beginning to fray between leadership and some influential members.
And the WGA has similarly rejected offers of mediation help from outside the industry, whether politicians or other business figures.
“They don’t want help from anyone,” said the individual, who was frustrated that there’s no active negotiation happening. “They think everyone is complicit. Many people that have no horse in the race have tried.”
Meanwhile, studios are continuing to suspend overall deals to high-profile showrunners, including Lorne Michaels (“Saturday Night Live”), Chuck Lorre (“The Big Bang Theory”) and J.J. Abrams (“Fringe”).
Jeremy Fuster contributed to this report.
For more of TheWrap’s Hollywood strike coverage, click here.