Writers on the Line

On the Line
Black List, Ridiculousness, and S.W.A.T. Action
The Black List hits the picket line at Netflix, Ridiculousness writers bring their organizing fight to Paramount, and S.W.A.T.'s going on at Radford
Wednesday, August 16, 2023

Black List on the Line

WGA Negotiating Committee member John August and Black List Founder and CEO Franklin Leonard.

The writer-focused platform known as the Black List exists to uplift, nurture, and create opportunities for all types or writers. The mission of the nearly 20-year-old organization doesn’t change whether many of the writers who regularly access its services are at work on TV scripts or screenplays or withholding their work while walking the picket lines.

Hence, the Black List’s strong solidarity for WGA writers on strike. Wearing their pencil-clutching, fist-raised black T-shirts, Black List staff, writers, and supporters united for a Black List community gathering/picket at Netflix Tuesday.

“I look to the Guild as an organization that normally does what we’re trying to do,” said Black List Founder and CEO Franklin Leonard, “which is advocate for writers and create a better ecosystem for them to get compensated as befits the value that they create in this industry. I think, unfortunately, the industry has historically grossly undervalued writers, to the great negative consequence of writers, but also to the negative consequence to the industry as a whole.”

Leonard and Black List workers have been on the lines previously, including at a July 7 #PayUpHollywood picket at Netflix which brought attention to support staff affected by the strike. The Black List also suspended the memberships of more than 1,700 struck companies’ employees so that they can’t access the site during the strike. Through its weekly Word by Word seminar held over Zoom, the Black List has raised more than $20,000 for strike relief funds.

Leonard, who also picketed during the 2007-‘08 WGA strike, says he has never seen solidarity to the degree that it is being manifested during the current work stoppage. When he comes to the picket lines, he enjoys experiencing what he calls a “contact high of solidarity.”

“These would be hard times without a strike, and the fact that there’s been a work stoppage now for 3.5 months, and even though people are really hurting, everybody is rallying together in solidarity,” Leonard said. “Everyone who is on the picket line, and frankly the entire business, and even people who are not on the picket lines who are crossing the lines into some of these buildings, they will be better off long-term for the sacrifice people are making now. I think there’s a clarity about that that I think is inspiring.”  

WGAW member Chandus Jackson, who has used the platform and won Black List-sponsored awards, agreed with Leonard’s assessment of WGA members’ collective resolve.

“The community of Guild writers has been very solidified, very unified,” said Jackson. “It’s always tough to not be working and to be on the line, but to see everybody come together is just awesome. There’s nothing like it.”

WGAW member Chandus Jackson at Netflix.

The Ridiculousness of It All

(L-R) Ridiculousness writers Lauren Blackwell, Ryan Connor, Steph McCann, Ally Maynard, Brandon Vaughn, Rick Wood and Erin Conroy at Paramount. Photo by J.W. Hendricks.

The prolific series is produced by Purple Shark/Superjacket Productions for MTV. It first aired in 2011 with over 1,200 episodes produced to date.

The writers who help create and shape this content, meanwhile, do not meaningfully participate in the benefits of the show’s success.

Now that is Ridiculousness.

“Our workload has increased 400 percent over the last two years,” said Ally Maynard standing alongside several of her fellow writers for the MTV series Ridiculousness at Paramount Studios Tuesday. “We get no script fees, no residuals, no raises. It’s just an endless slew of increasing workload. We love our jobs. We just want a fair shake.”

“The people who write for the late-night shows do about 40 percent as many episodes as we do, and they get paid several times more than we do,” added Ryan Connor. “A lot of people like our show, so I think we’ve got to bridge that gap.”

Earlier this year, all 11 of the writers on the series signed cards authorizing the WGA as their exclusive bargaining representative. When the company refused to voluntary recognize the Writers Guild, the writers filed a petition with the National Labor Relations Board asking for a union election. Those ballots go out later this week, and the results are expected to be announced in September.

Seven Ridiculousness writers joined who they hope will soon be their WGA siblings in solidarity on the picket line at Paramount. Acknowledging that writers are striking over an existential threat to our profession, the Ridiculousness writers see principles of the Guild’s struggle reflected in their current battle.

Writers who work for similar successful franchises like America’s Funniest Home Videos and The Daily Show are WGA-covered. The Ridiculousness writers say they belong in the same category and face many of the same challenges as their colleagues.

“We’re a humorous nonfiction show, and I think a lot of people are realizing how much work goes into this,” said Steph McCann. “We each turn in one script per week. It’s not just somebody getting on the stage and improvising. There’s a lot of writing that goes into any of the non-dramatic shows you watch, and I think people are starting to pay attention and wanting to hear about the work.”

“We definitely don’t want the studios to get away with relying on non-union programming when the WGA goes on strike because it’s cheaper,” added Maynard. “We think it degrades the whole industry and lowers pay for everybody across the board.”

S.W.A.T.'s Going On

S.W.A.T. writers, cast and crew at Radford Studio Center. Photo by J.W. Hendricks

After spending so much time together, the cast and crew who work on a long-running TV series turn into something deeper than just professional colleagues. Which partially explains why crew members joined striking WGA and SAG-AFTRA members on the picket line for Monday’s S.W.A.T. reunion picket at Radford Studio Center.

“Our composer came, one of our editors is here, our line producer, our UPM, the assistants who work on the show are here,” series co-developer and former WGA Negotiating Committee member Shawn Ryan said. “We’ve made 128 episodes of this show, and you really do become a family. When there’s a strike, that family is separated.”

“So it’s a reminder of how much we love what we do, and how much we love these people we get to work with,” he continued. “It’s a reminder that we’re all in this struggle together, and we have each other’s backs.”

The territory was familiar to series EP and showrunner Andrew Dettmann, a 35-year WGAW member who walked the same Radford picket line in 2007-08 when he was on strike from the CBS series Numb3rs.

“The morale and attitude seem to be a little bit better this time,” Dettmann said of the current strike. “The issues are different, but everybody seems to really embrace it and know why we’re out here.”

Having spent the bulk of his career working in network television, Dettmann acknowledges that he has been fortunate to enjoy a stable career. He worries that up-and-coming writers may not enjoy the same stability.

“The younger writers are the ones who are being more abused now,” Dettmann said. “That’s why I think it’s up to the senior people who have been around longer to tell them that it doesn’t have to be that way and to fix it so that it continues to be a legitimate, sustainable career.”

As he walked the lines with members of his S.W.A.T. team, Ryan agreed that maintaining unity after 100 days into the strike is critical.

“I’ve been on the Negotiating Committee five times, and one thing I know is that we’re only able to negotiate as strongly as the membership believes in us,” he said. “So I think special events and picketing every day, it keeps the morale high, and it reminds the companies externally that we haven’t gone anywhere, that our resolve hasn’t dissipated, and that we believe in what we’re fighting for.”