In Depth

Editorial: Showrunners’ Stance Should Lead to Talks

Last week’s impressive show of solidarity by showrunners appears to be a tipping point in the labor dispute between writers and producers, and we hope it provides the impetus needed to settle the strike.

As of this writing, on Nov. 8, there has not been any movement in the clash between the Writers Guild of America and the Alliance of Motion Picture & Television Producers.

After the WGA strike of 1988, many said one of the major reasons that dispute was finally settled after 22 weeks was because of pressure showrunners exerted on the WGA.

In stark contrast, last week, just as the strike began, a number of showrunners came down squarely on the side of the guild.

Specifically, e-mailed statements from creator-showrunners Shonda Rhimes (“Grey’s Anatomy,” “Private Practice”) and Shawn Ryan (“The Shield,” “The Unit”) started to resonate among their peers.

“I absolutely believed that I would edit our episodes,” Ms. Rhimes wrote, referring to one of her showrunner responsibilities on “Grey’s Anatomy” that doesn’t involve writing. ”Until a thought hit me: How can I walk a picket line and then continue to essentially work? How am I supposed to look at myself in the mirror or look at my child years from now and know that I did not have the courage of my convictions to stand up and put myself more at risk than anyone else?”

Mr. Ryan, who is also on the WGA’s negotiating committee, was more explicit in his e-mail about what he would do: “I obviously will not write on my shows. But I also will not edit, I will not cast, I will not look at location photos, I will not get on the phone with the network and studio, I will not prep directors, I will not review mixes. I can’t in good conscience fight these bastards with one hand, while operating an Avid with the other.”

Steve Levitan, co-creator of “Back to You,” expressing the dilemma of the showrunner, told Daily Variety, “The perfectionist in me wants to participate [in a mix session for the show], but the Norma Rae in me wants to support my union.”

CBS, for one, was quick to tell its showrunners that it would consider suing them if they didn’t fulfill their non-writing duties.

But for the moment it appears most showrunners are standing united in support of the writers.

With the showrunner hyphenates on their side, the WGA has a much stronger hand.

It’s a factor the producers would be wise not to ignore. Most TV showrunners have achieved their position because they truly are the most creative among Hollywood’s TV creative community.

And it’s yet another good reason for the producers to come back to the bargaining table.

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