Creators of hits like ”Friends“ and ”One Tree Hill“ are afraid that the next generation of showrunners are being smothered for short-term profit
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For a good number of writers in Hollywood, this WGA strike is not their first one. TheWrap spoke with four writer-producers who marched on the picket lines back in 2007 and who have created and written for some of the most popular shows of the past quarter-century, and they say that they’re more concerned for future writers than themselves.
“I was also involved in the 1988 strike, and my biggest memory from that was a rally in Century City, and there was an elderly man in a wheelchair who was a writer on ‘The Lucy Show,'” said Marta Kauffman, co-creator of “Friends” and “Grace and Frankie.”
“Someone said to him, ‘Curious why you’re here. You’re not writing, you’re retired. Why are you here?’ He said, ‘I’m here for the younger writers,” Kauffman recalled. “That really had a lot of impact on me. Now we are here for the younger writers who aren’t going to get an opportunity to learn how to become showrunners.”
Kauffman’s concern for the next generation was echoed by her fellow roundtable panelists, including Stacy Rukeyser, who worked for two decades as a writer on shows like “One Tree Hill” before becoming creator and showrunner on Netflix’s “Sex/Life.” Her experience being a showrunner for a streamer has made her fearful that future writers are losing the opportunity to work their way up the ladder as streamers are hiring less writers for the duration of a show’s production.
“I’ve always prided myself on being a real mentor to younger writers, on having young writers go produce episodes, even as staff writers, because that’s how I was mentored and trained. And that is just not an option anymore,” Rukeyser said. “I have fought for it. And I have been successful to some degree, but not to get all of my writers on set producing their own episodes.”
Javier Grillo-Marxauch, whose writing credits include “The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance” and “Medium,” argued that in the studios’ efforts to trim budgets by hiring fewer writers on shows and not keeping them employed for the duration of production, they are doing both damage to the future of storytelling and their long-term profits.
“Start looking at the writers as your R&D department,” he said. “We still do this very well, and we still can do it better than anybody because there are people like us still around who learned under the old system. If the studios win and television goes the way it is going, not only is the medium going to be very devalued, but all of those artistic gains that we made that led us to that golden age of television are going to be gone.”
Despite all their fears for the future, the panelists were heartened by how public support for this strike is significantly stronger compared to 2007. Grillo-Marxuach believes this is because people from all walks of life are “tired of being f–ked over by billionaires.”
William Lucas Walker, a veteran comedy writer who worked on classics like “Frasier” and “Will & Grace,” believes that social media has also been a much bigger factor in how the WGA has reached the public compared to 2007.
“We’ve never been able to get our message out, even in a fraction of the way before that we’re able to do this time,” Walker said. “That’s combined with touching this nerve that everyone is experiencing across America with their jobs being cut.”
For more remarks from this roundtable of veteran TV writers, watch the video above.
For all of TheWrap’s WGA Strike coverage, click here.
Box Office Reporter • firstname.lastname@example.org • Twitter: @jeremyfuster