Disney and Other Studios Demand Showrunners Continue to Work During WGA Strike

The company, along with HBO and CBS, sent showrunners letters saying they are expected to honor their non-writing duties during the current stoppage.
WGA protesters gather outside Sunset Bronson Studios
WGA protesters gather outside Sunset Bronson Studios
Gilbert Flores for Variety

Much of Hollywood has come to a standstill since the WGA strike kicked off this week, but Disney and some other studios are putting pressure on their talent to cross the picket line. Earlier this week, the company sent out a letter to showrunners and other TV writers with other contracted non-writing duties, pushing them to continue working during the strike. Other studios have also sent similar communications, as sources revealed to IndieWire.

A letter sent to showrunners from Disney’s ABC Signature on Wednesday was obtained by the Hollywood Reporter. The letter, signed by ABC assistant chief counsel Bob McPhail, says that showrunners and writer-producers are “not excused” from performing their non-writing duties amid the WGA strike, and that their personal service agreement requires them to keep working even in the event of the Writers Guild fining them for doing so.

“Your duties as a showrunner and/or producer are not excused, suspended or terminated until and unless you are so notified in writing by the Studio,” the letter reads. “Studio intends to stay in production during the WGA strike and we are legally entitled to do so.”

A person with knowledge of the situation confirmed the authenticity of the ABC Signature letter to IndieWire. HBO and HBO Max have sent a similar letter obtained by IndieWire to its writers who have additional duties on series. “If you are a non-writing Producer and not a member of the WGA, the WGA does not and cannot prohibit you from working,” the HBO/HBO Max letter states.

CBS sent what a third source called “an informational letter” to showrunners and supervisory producers. The letter noted that under the National Labor Relations Act, those producers are still “allowed” to perform non-writing supervisory producer functions, which is exactly what the studio expects.

Another source at a fourth studio told IndieWire this is not a coordinated effort by all studios, and that their studio has not sent out such a letter to its showrunners. This source, who asked to remain anonymous, acknowledged the fluidity of the situation and that such a letter could at some point come from their studio.

IndieWire has reached out to the Writers Guild, the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers, and studios/platforms including Amazon, Paramount, Netflix, Amazon, Warner Bros., Lionsgate (who declined to comment), Universal, and Apple for comment.

The letter obtained by THR features a “Q&A” section outlining showrunners and writers’ “rights” during the work stoppage, including that they are federally allowed to work regardless of the strike. The Q&A states showrunners are “required” to perform non-writing services regardless of the strike, including post-production work and “(a) through (h)” services, or a variety of work — such as cutting scenes or small changes to dialogue during production — that non-writers can perform on WGA-covered shows, according to the union’s contract.

Under the strike rules outlined by the WGA, union members are prohibited from performing these services during a work stoppage: “The Rules prohibit hyphenates (members who are employed in dual capacities) from performing any writing services, including the ‘(a) through (h)’ functions.” This means that showrunners who perform these functions during the stoppage would be subject to fines or disciplinary action from WGA leadership.

Disney’s letter marks the latest response from studios pushing back on the WGA strike, which began after the union rejected the final contract proposal from the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers (AMPTP). Striking TV writers have formed picket lines at major studios around Los Angeles and New York, protesting over issues that include regulation of AI in writing, increased minimum wages, an overhauled residual system, and transparency regarding streaming viewership.

On Thursday, the AMPTP released a statement disputing many of the WGA’s demands, saying that the union misrepresented its offers for minimum wage and healthcare, and pushed back on certain demands, including mandatory staff rooms for scripted series. Studio heads have also minimized concerns about how the strike would affect their business, such as Paramount CEO Bob Bakish, who claimed “consumers really won’t notice anything for a while.”

Daily Headlines
Daily Headlines covering Film, TV and more.

By subscribing, I agree to the Terms of Use and Privacy Policy.

PMC Logo
IndieWire is a part of Penske Media Corporation. © 2023 IndieWire Media, LLC. All Rights Reserved.