Disney Says Showrunners Should Work Despite Writers’ Strike

Disney Says Showrunners Should Work Despite Writers’ Strike

In a memo acquired by the Hollywood Reporter, Bob McPhail, assistant chief counsel for ABC Signature, a Disney subsidiary, reminded showrunners for Disney shows that they “are not excused from performing your duties as a showrunner and/or producer on your series as a result of the WGA strike.”

Showrunners are multi-hyphenate writer-producers, which means they both write and produce. But to ask a showrunner to come to work and not make any adjustments to the script, dialogue, plot, or story feels like a huge catch-22. Any writing done for a WGA-struck company is scab work, and Disney putting pressure on employees to show their allegiance to the corporation over the union is… not a great look, to say the least. Adding to that, many (if not all) showrunners are in the WGA themselves.

The letter is dated May 3 — two days after the strike began. In it, McPhail says that a showrunner’s agreements with a studio — whether that’s Disney, ABC, or another production — requires that showrunners “perform your showrunner and/or producing duties even if the WGA attempts to fine you for performing such services during the strike.”

The letter also includes a FAQ that is written as if writers aren’t already unionized, and contains leading questions like “Do writers have to strike when the WGA calls a strike?” “I have heard that the WGA can discipline or fine members who continue working during a strike. Is this true?” and “May I be replaced during a strike?”

The FAQ attached to the letter also outlines that showrunners will be asked to perform “a. through h. services” — these are adjustments that occur during the production process, such as cutting for time, making line adjustments, and generally allowing producers to create a cohesive narrative during post-production. While technically speaking these are duties that the WGA states non-writers can perform on WGA-covered projects, the strike rules issued by the WGA clearly prohibit hyphenate union members from doing any of these “a. through h. services” during the strike: “The Rules prohibit hyphenates (members who are employed in dual capacities) from performing any writing services, including the ‘(a) through (h)’ functions.”

It is genuinely incredible to imply that writer-producers should risk WGA fines and retaliatory action from the union if they feel like keeping their jobs — this is how you set fire to any goodwill there might’ve been at the beginning of this action. You can read the full letter and FAQ at the Hollywood Reporter.