Put six showrunners from some of TV’s most innovative shows on stage, and right now the talk will eventually turn to the possibility of a writers strike.
And indeed, the question of a strike came up midway through IndieWire’s first-ever Fan Favorites Panel, held Saturday during WonderCon 2017 at the Anaheim Convention Center. “It’s a complicated situation,” said “BoJack Horseman” executive producer Raphael Bob-Waksberg. “Nobody wants a strike… but also the writers would like to be paid fairly for the work that we’re doing. The business has changed a lot.”
Bob-Waksberg and “Arrow”/”DC’s Legends of Tomorrow” executive producer Marc Guggenheim pointed out that many shows now produce only 10 episodes – which means fewer paychecks for some writers.
Writers Guild of America members will vote later this month on whether to give its board authorization to call a strike. Even then, a vote in favor won’t guarantee a strike, but will allow the WGA to call one if necessary. “No one wants to strike, but that is our one negotiating leverage,” Guggenheim said of the vote.
One of the issues is that shorter seasons of shows means that some writers have to hop from show to show in order to make a living wage, but Guggenheim pointed out that “contractually, some are being prohibited from working more than six months” because they’re paid per episode, but sometimes episodes take weeks to be made. He also noted that in the age of Peak TV, making these shows aren’t as profitable for the day-to-day creatives, but “corporate profits have gone monstrously up.”
The Alliance of Motion Pictures & Television Producers are also rolling back the guild’s healthcare.
“But don’t worry. Everyone’s going to have this awesome health care,” Guggenheim joked, invoking the President’s rhetoric. “It’ll be the best. It’ll be ‘bigly.’”
Bob-Waksberg and Guggenheim joined four other showrunners on stage to share secrets of the craft – from negotiating with their networks over what swear words are acceptable, to how much fans on social media might impact a storyline. Also on the dais: Jessica Goldberg (“The Path”), Jonah Ray (“Mystery Science Theater 3000”), Sera Gamble (“The Magicians”), and Aline Brosh McKenna (“Crazy Ex-Girlfriend”).
Moderated by IndieWire executive editor Michael Schneider, the panel was an informative, entertaining and at times raucous affair with some of the panelists hijacking (or should we say “BoJacking”?) the usual format and asking questions of their fellow showrunners.
The President came up again when one fan asked the panel how it was to create a TV show in the current political environment.
“It’s hard to write the show from a fetal position,” Bob-Waksberg quipped.
Guggenheim had a surreal moment for the “DC’s Legends of Tomorrow” episode that envisioned a dark future in which Thawne (Matt Letscher) reigned over grave new world where he was so respected, he even got a call from President Trump.
“In this episode ‘Doomworld,’ reality has changed,” he said. “The world is in the control of these narcissists who are totally evil.We thought the [real] world would be different [when we wrote that].”
Gamble felt the effects of politics in particular for this current season of “The Magicians.” She first noted the parallels with the characters who are students at a magical university who are suddenly thrust into positions of power and responsibility as rulers of the kingdom of Fillory. “Basically, the season is about Trump,” she said and added that nicknaming Margo’s character “Fillory Clinton” this season had to be cut out after the first mention after Hillary Clinton lost the election since it didn’t have the same power.
But Gamble also noticed that the storyline about Julia’s (Stella Maeve) rape and attempts to get an abortion were planned from the start, but after the election she felt editing and airing those scenes felt more significant. “The show felt different for me,” she said. “It just became heightened for everyone. It also lent a certain importance to our story.”
The conversation also shifted to the constantly changing world of Standards & Practices, particularly profanity. Over on “The Magicians,” the Syfy series gets away with saying “fuck” but with the audio dipped a bit. “We actually got to say the C word,” Gamble revealed. “Standards & Practices… at first they said to take it out of the script but we forgot. The ultimate decision was made because the character was calling that herself. They let it go; it was like a present. We have unlimited S words.”
On a network show like “Crazy Ex-Girlfriend,” however, profanity is rarer. Brosh McKenna said that for the song “Shitshow,” the series had to ask to use the word “shit” twice. “We asked them for two bleeped “shits,” so they literally gave us two shits,” she said. The showrunner also told a story about how co-creator Rachel Bloom wanted to use the lyrics “his balls smell weird.” One way to get around that racy topic was to have the words have a double meaning, and therefore they had Bloom’s character holding stress balls in her hand, which she initially resisted.
Scott Everett White/The CW
Bob-Waksberg doesn’t necessarily have those issues since “BoJack Horseman” is on Netflix, but he said, “We try to limit ourselves to one non-dip ‘fuck’ per season.” He said that when shows like “Mad Men” used such language sparingly it made each use into a “powerful moment.”
Other highlights of the panel:
– Ray said that the revival of “Mystery Science Theater 3000” very much honors the original series. “There’s no new angle. It’s still the same show. It’s a riffing show. It’s a puppet show,” he said. “[The show premieres] April 14. There are 14 episodes. Don’t binge it. That’s ridiculous. These are movies.”
– Goldberg, who is a first-time showrunner on Hulu’s “The Path,” said that the Meyerist Movement in the series has been thoroughly developed. “We have a whole bible now,” she said. “It’s a literal bible with terminology and acronyms. It’s probably 40 pages. There’s holidays.”
– Musicals could be contagious. On the heels of “The Flash” holding a musical crossover episode with “Supergirl,” the tribute to “Les Miserables” in “The Magicians,” and the acclaim of “Crazy Ex-Girlfriend,” one fan asked if some of the DC series stars could be heading to West Covina.
“Let’s do it!” enthused Brosh McKenna. “Send them over.”
Goldberg added, “I love musicals. If we have Season 3 of ‘The Path,’ we’ll have a musical number.”