It’s not every day you see the top show runners of the biggest and best shows on television all together in one place. But such was the case this morning at ABC Studios in Burbank.
Unfortunately, as you probably know, these TV bosses gathered together for what many of them called a "sad," "sobering" and even "funeral"-like occasion (as My Name Is Earl producer Greg Garcia put it, "I want to throw up and cry"): to walk the picket line in support of the Writers Guild of America strike, which entered its third day today.
Team WWK (Korbi, Jen and I) hit the Walt Disney Studios gate to check out what happens when the likes of Damon Lindelof, Joss Whedon, Bill Lawrence, John Wells, Ronald D. Moore, Shonda Rhimes and many, many others grab a sign and face the press to rally the writers' cause. A few actors we love (Sally Field, Dave Annable, Justine Bateman) also joined in to show their support.
Below, you’ll find our favorite snapshots of what went down and who said what...
Out of the 75 show runners who hit Disney Studios' front gate, Lost boss Carlton Cuse’s sign (above) easily took the cake: "Do you want to know what the island is?" Fellow show runner Damon Lindelof (pictured at top) cracked a wry smile as told me, "That’s phase two [of the strike], when we start threatening to withhold sacred facts. And then we can sell them to individuals on eBay, saying, ‘This is what the monster is,’ and put that money into a kitty for all the assistants that are going to get laid off."
Despite their light tone, Damon and Carlton say the severity of the strike is really sinking in. "I’m feeling very sober today," Damon explains. "It’s a lot like when you’ve been out all night partying and you’ve got a head full of steam and you’re very passionate about something, and then you wake up in the morning and the alcohol has worn off. And you’re suddenly like, this is my life right now…I think the writers believed the threat of a strike would yield a breakthrough in the negotiations, but now that I’m sitting with it, I feel that was very naive. Nobody in this country has ever gotten anything in this country without suffering. It actually makes me feel better to know that I’m running a marathon more than a sprint."
The theme of the day was Show Runners United, and all the TV-show chiefs were asked to carry signs identifying their shows. Some noted they were coming midseason, and Joss Whedon made a point to describe his newly hatched Dollhouse as "not coming soon."
"I honestly wasn't sure what to put on my sign," he told me. "But of course I had to be here. This is too important."
Meanwhile, According to Jim show runner Warren Bell used his sign to clarify that despite what you may have heard, his show is not canceled. Good to know! (And very funny.)
Sally Field, who won an Oscar for her portrayal of a union organizer in the film Norma Rae, was offered a cardboard UNION sign à la the iconic image from that film, but she waved it off, instead encouraging her Brothers & Sisters boys Matthew Rhys, Dave Annable and Balthazar Getty to join her in talking to the press about the issues at hand. (BTW, she couldn't have been more Nora Walker to her onscreen sons in that moment, and it couldn't have been more awesome for us die-hard B&S fans to see.)
I'm told Rachel Griffiths was the first Brothers & Sisters castmember to visit the striking writers—she brought the coffee and sunscreen yesterday. According to Brothers & Sisters executive producer Greg Berlanti (also pictured above), they will have completed 12 episodes of the current season before shutting production down, while his other series Dirty Sexy Money will have finished 11.
Desperate Housewives show runner Marc Cherry smiled for the camera with fellow ABC show runner Silvio Horta, of Ugly Betty. Bill Prady, head honcho of frosh comedy The Big Bang Theory, commented on the Housewives creator's famed spec-scripted sale that resulted in the soapy megahit: "Marc Cherry will say that he couldn't get a job to save his life, and he was living purely on residuals from previous work, and during that time, he developed and wrote Desperate Housewives, which is now a property worth untold millions. And the studios, through residuals, funded that development at a very low cost."
So, what's the creator of the best comedy on television—Greg Daniels of The Office—gonna do if the strike goes on? "I'll go back to teaching," he told Korbi. (We're only okay with that if he's teaching people the secret to TV comedy.)
As for why he's on the line, Daniels said: "The Office is a perfect example of a show that has a vested interest in the issues on the table. We’re one of the highest downloads on iTunes. We made a lot of money there, and the creative people didn’t see any of it. And this is the future of the television business. People are going to sit in front of a box that has computer guts inside and watch their shows, and just because it’s not called a TV, it doesn’t apply to our contract. All we’re saying is that it’s the same thing."
That nice Shemar Moore stopped by on his racing cycle, in a Criminal Minds-branded bodysuit, no less, to show support for the Writers Guild of America. Nothin' like flexing a little muscle for a good cause. There was also a '90s flashback moment when Mark Curry, best known as Mr. Cooper of Hangin' with Mr. Cooper fame, honked loudly as he drove past the picket lines.
Adorable pixie and show runner Marti Noxon, one of the many Buffy the Vampire Slayer/Angel alums now staffed elsewhere, talked to the media about the strike and her work on Grey's spinoff Private Practice.
Craig Thomas, cocreator of the CBS comedy How I Met Your Mother, revealed that HIMYM is shooting its last script this week—the season's eleventh—and then will go out of production, which means the series is expected to air through the first or second week of December. Not surprisingly, Craig says the HIMYM cast has been "totally cool" regarding the strike. "Alyson Hannigan was on the line with us for like three hours yesterday, handing out her leftover candy bars from Halloween. Several of the castmembers came, actually." We always knew they were a tight-knit fam!
ALSO THERE (BUT NOT PICTURED):
Greg Garcia (My Name Is Earl): "They're still shooting. I have two episodes being shot by directors I've never worked with, and no one there to watch. It's kind of hard to be here. I usually get up at 4:30 and go in and work, and that's all you do as a show runner, is work. So, if I'm not out here pacing with a sign, I'm at home pacing, worried about what's going on there. I'm sure the episodes will be fine, but it drives you absolutely insane. You're not editing them, you're not there, you're handing your child to someone you've just met, and there's no nanny-cam for the live feed. And you're constantly getting emails from wardrobe and editing, asking, 'What should we do here?' and I'm returning all of those with, 'I'm sorry, I can't answer.' "
Josh Schwartz (Gossip Girl, Chuck, The OC): "The actors are behind us. This is their fight. This is their issue, too, because whatever we get [as compensation for internet programming], they’re gonna get, too, and they know that. Our crew is very supportive as well. Most of them are in unions of some kind, so they understand. That being said, it’s very painful. And it’s going to affect them first, and that weighs very heavily on all of us here."
Bill Lawrence (Scrubs): "We're staying positive. The hope is that it won't go on and on, and that Scrubs will be able to finish [the way we intended]. The actors and I are heading to the New York Comedy Festival together this weekend, and it will be tough to face the fans there and not be able to answer their questions about what's going to happen."
Ronald D. Moore (Battlestar Galactica): "At Battlestar, we had a very specific situation last year, dealing with webisodes, which opened my eyes to the problems. When we were approached to do Galactica webisodes, the studio's position was they didn't want to pay anyone to do it—they considered it promotional material. They weren't going to pay any of the writers or the actors or the directors to do it, which we thought was crazy. We refused to do it, and eventually came to an accommodation where they said they would pay us, but then when we were almost done, they decided they weren't going to credit anybody. They weren't going to acknowledge anybody who wrote it. And then I refused to deliver the webisodes, and they came and took them anyway, which is their right since they own the show...but it really made me aware of these issues. I mean, my staff writer, who is the lowest man on the totem pole, they want him to do all this work for another media, not pay him for it, and then make money off of his work. Ultimately, that's why we're here, because that's just wrong."
Jason Katims (Friday Night Lights, Bionic Woman): "Personally, what's bringing me out here is that somebody was out here, years ago, for me, and I benefited from that. I'm not out here for myself, I'm out here for the next generation, the ones after me."
—Additional reporting by Jennifer Godwin and Korbi Ghosh