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This is the first entry in a series featuring frank accounts of the strike from Hollywood writers at different levels in their careers. The diarists have been granted anonymity to encourage candor.
Monday night, May 1, I attended a party with my colleagues, awaiting the news of the strike. Everyone mixed and drank and wondered. When the news broke, something interesting happened. The Old Money and the No Money — two factions who definitely sat at different tables during the dinner portion of the night, were suddenly bonded by their mutual disappointment. They hoped “it wouldn’t go on too long,” which makes sense. The NMs need to keep working, need that money coming in. And the OMs have deals that need to close and productions they are in charge of: “Can we give notes?” “Can we meet and just ‘talk’ but not ‘write’?” An over-served staff writer went up to our boss, standing feet from one of this power-writer’s Emmys, and asked that she please not be force-majeured. “I’ll be the one who’s force-majeured,” our showrunner said.
I’m one of those people in between the OMs and NMs. And I was relieved by the news of the strike. I know how desperately we need changes. TV writing is no longer a career, it’s a gig. I’m an upper-level writer in my early 40s who came up right after the last strike. I’ve had the experience of working on network shows from 2008 to 2012 with 20-something episode orders and then going into the cable world where 12 episodes was the max. I’ve worked two jobs most seasons, and in 2018 and 2021, I worked three. All while developing for free, of course. And I know I’m one of the lucky ones. But I’m also exhausted. My brain is permanently, for better or worse, in half-hour dramedy mode. Now, when I watch football, I don’t need to know anything about the teams playing to know that the one winning at halftime will start to falter in the third quarter, right before pulling out a victory in the end. I’m both worried about AI and worried I’ve become AI.
Tuesday, I hit the picket line at Paramount. I ran into some of my favorite colleagues from past shows. I got a T-shirt, and I felt energized. I saw my favorite boss, the one who told me to read Lydia Davis and Amy Hempel. Then, I ran into a writer I once worked with who humiliated me in front of the staff by pointing out I was eating a “baking apple” like he was Evan-fucking-Kleiman. He’s someone I considered OM. He told me he was looking to do something different. A new career. He seemed disillusioned.
The next day, I went to the WGA meeting at the Shrine. A short distance from my house, and yet I was still 30 minutes late because of the long line to get in. It was a big turnout. My friends and I joked about the writerly makeup of the crowd. “4000 Non-Blondes packed the Shrine on Wednesday.” We pretended to call and ask each other for advice on what to wear — the gray hoodie or the charcoal hoodie? Shacket or no shacket? Booties or Dunks? My row from left to right was all former writers’ assistants who were now WGA members, including myself, and next to me was someone I assisted on my first scripted TV show — a well-known multi-guild member who has had experience with strikes.
He said people don’t know what they’ve already lost. I said I think I’m one of those people. My first staff job was in 2008. He nodded. In the lobby as I was leaving, I ran into the writer who taught me about spec scripts when I was a PA — we agreed to picket Disney together.
I left that meeting with two large Wolfgang Puck trays of food, feeling good about all the folks I’d run into, wondering why our guild doesn’t host a big sparkly event every year where we can see our fellow writers and catch up. Are they in cahoots with our reps to keep us from networking, or are we just not party people? When I got home from the meeting, my wife asked how it went. She’s a do-gooder, employed in a do-gooder job, and wants to know details about the pattern of demands and thinks I should be able to recall verbatim what each speaker said. I told her everyone thought the Teamster captain was hot, she wondered why and immediately started googling. She pointed out inconsistencies in some of her statements while I made tea and suggested we cancel our Netflix subscription.
The next day at Radford it was calm. I walked with a writer who was on her fifth strike. I ran into a former Friends writer I idolized, who once let me pick through some furniture she was getting rid of to help furnish my apartment. And I saw the guy from my first job whose typical joke-generating posture was pulling his shirt up and resting his hairy gut on the writers room table. Once again, reminding me I’m luckier than some, not as lucky as others.
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