Showrunner Crisis: 'It's a Sweatshop at the Top'
Caught in the middle of the strike, those in the seat tell me about slashed budgets, mini rooms, culture wars and misery
Week two of the writers strike has turned Hollywood’s attention to showrunners, the scribes who occupy the most glorified and high-profile tier of the television writers ladder — and who suddenly find themselves in the crosshairs of the battle between the WGA (Writers Guild of America) and the AMPTP (Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers), the negotiating body for the studios and streamers.
After studios decreed that showrunners — who by definition both write and produce — must continue the latter activity during the strike, a group of 500 or so them convened on May 6th at the WGA theater to discuss the matter and reinforce their position, which is that there is simply no way to keep producing without writing. In other words, thanks but no thanks, and we dare you to sue us. (A Zoom for those who weren’t able to attend took place four days later.) Among the earlier crowd were Damon Lindelof (Lost, The Leftovers), Bill Lawrence (Scrubs, Ted Lasso), Yahlin Chang (co-showrunner of The Handmaid’s Tale) and Marc Guggenheim (Arrow, DC’s Legends of Tomorrow).
“It was incredible, the amount of unity and solidarity” in the room, Guggenheim tells me. “Back in ’07 you could cognitively wrap your brain around the idea of separating producing from writing, but now everyone understands that the way showrunning is done, especially these days, that’s simply not possible. You’re doing everything.”
Doing More With Less
The conflict between showrunners and the studios and streamers brings new focus on a job that is the backbone of the television industry.
But in recent years,