A spokesman for 20th Century Fox TV is denying an online report that says it has fired showrunners who have refused to cross the picket lines to perform non-writing duties on their shows. The spokesman did admit, however, that Fox sent out letters this week notifying showrunners/hyphenates that their deals were being suspended “because they have failed to provide non-writing services on remaining episodes of their series. We have merely stopped compensating them for the simple reason that they have stopped working.” Other TV studios, including Paramount, sent out similar letters. The danger for the showrunners is, of course, that their deals might not be reinstated when the strike ends, but for now they are essentially on unpaid leave pending further action.
It has been the hope of the WGA to force an earlier-than-expected industry-wide work stoppage by encouraging showrunners (i.e. the men and women who serve as head writers and executive producers) to not cross the picket line for any kind of task, even non-writing duties. In some cases, it has worked; Grey’s Anatomy and Desperate Housewives were forced to shut down this week because EPs Shonda Rhimes and Marc Cherry did not cross the picket line. Still, many dramas like Medium, Dirty Sexy Money and Women’s Murder Club remain in production. The WGA can cajole showrunners to stay away, but it cannot discipline them for going to work and performing non-writing duties.