In the walkout that began just after midnight Nov. 5, some members of the Writers Guild of America find themselves in an awkward position. The Writer’s Guild represents scriptwriters for movies and TV. It is Labor. The networks, studios, and independent producers make and distribute movies and TV shows. They are Management. But this distinction gets blurry when it comes to an elite group of TV writers known as “show runners.” These are writers who are also producers, with supervisory responsibility for a drama or comedy series. David E. Kelley, for example, is both a writer and a producer for ABC’s Boston Legal. Tina Fey is head writer for the NBC comedy 30 Rock and also holds the title of executive producer. (She is also, of course, a lead actor on the program.) Show runners are forbidden by the Writer’s Guild strike rules to perform the writing half of their job during a walkout. After some speculation over where their loyalties might lie, Kelley and Fey, along with dozens of other well-known show runners, took out a full-page ad last week in Variety topped by the headline “Pencils Down Means Pencils Down” (below). “Just to be absolutely clear,” these mandarins declared, “the following showrunners, will do no writing and no story breaking” (i.e., breaking down an episode into individual scenes) “until we get a deal.” Solidarność! In this instance, though, behind the upraised fist you may glimpse a Rolex watch.
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