Writers on the Line

On the Line
Latinx and Lanford on the Line
Latina/o/x/e actors and writers stage a massive bi-coastal unity picket, a Conners reunion at Radford, and two Amandas become picket line partners
Monday, August 21, 2023

All Together Now at Warner Bros.

Latino Actors and Writers Unite! picket and rally at Warner Bros. Photo by J.W. Hendricks.

Issuing a cry for unity that they expect to continue once their strikes end, Latinx writers and actors came together for a massive bi-coastal “Latino Actors and Writers Unite!” rally and picket Friday at Warner Bros.

A joint event sponsored by the WGAW Latinx Writers Committee, WGAE’s Latine Salon and SAG-AFTRA’s National Latino Committee, the picket took place in New York and Los Angeles, drawing more than 2,000 people.

“This is an amazing show of Latino, Latinx and Latina unity,” WGAW Latinx Writers Committee Vice Chair Jorge Rivera told the crowd during his opening remarks. “Let’s carry it all the way to the end. We’re going to win this freaking fight!”

Friday's event included remarks by leaders of the WGAW Latinx Writers Committee (LWC), creator-showrunner-executive producer Gloria Calderon Kellett, WGAW Committee of Black Writers Co-Chair Hilliard Guess, and actors Edward James Olmos and Al Madrigal. Kellett and Madrigal are members of both WGAW and SAG-AFTRA.

The event was partly a rally against the corporations that caused the current strikes and partly a call for improvements in Latinx representation in film and TV. Whether one is a writer, actor or both, Latinx artists face years of struggling within an industry that has historically marginalized them, said Madrigal, a 21-year member of SAG-AFTRA and 10-year WGAW member.

“That’s a lot of grinding, hustling, and financial insecurity that comes with being a pawn in this Hollywood game that we all choose to play,” said Madrigal. “The strikes are a major setback. But let’s face it: this is nothing new for us because we’ve always been set back.”

However, the future looks hopeful, said Madrigal, who is now seeing Latinx staff writers being elevated to co-EPs and showrunners and actors cast as leads in hit TV series instead of being relegated to “just the ethnic friend.”

Calderon Kellett, showrunner of the series One Day at a Time (which she co-developed) and With Love (which she created), agreed that Latinx artists have to continue to push for better representation.

“Policy-making starts by what people see in Hollywood,” she said. “We have to acknowledge that we are building the house while we live in it, while others are actively trying to burn it down. And we must stand together.”

Luisa Leschin, a WGAW member since 1999, has felt the changes in the way of doing business during the streaming era and its effects on younger writers. The co-EP of series such as George Lopez and Everybody Hates Chris has seen her recent jobs shrink to fewer and fewer episodes.

“And all my younger writers in the room are let go once we have the scripts,” Leschin, also a SAG-AFTRA member, told Writers on the Line. “They’re not helping bring along the next generation of writers.”

A Strike Captain who has traveled to many rapid response pickets since the strike began, Leschin said she has often heard the perception that the current system is writing into gig economy work. 

Olmos closed the rally speeches by urging actors and writers to be prepared to keep their strike going “for the long run.”   

“We have to become inventive. We have to learn how to live while we’re doing this,” Olmos said. “Please understand that we have strength in unity. We will make it through this.”

But no matter how long the strike lasts, Olmos believes that Latinx WGA and SAG-AFTRA members will play an important role.

“You cannot tell Latinos how to strike,” he said. “We invented it back in the early 1920s.”

Flash mob performance by Latinas Acting Up at WB. Photo by J.W. Hendricks.

Lanford Comes to Radford

Bill Walker and Joel Madison at Lanford on Radford picket.

Radford Studio Center became blue collar Lanford, Ill, home of TV's Conner family Friday morning as writers, cast and crew of Roseanne and its reboot-turned-spinoff, The Conners, returned to picket outside the studio where the two series were filmed.

Featuring taco and ice cream trucks, Friday’s reunion produced a large turnout including series star John Goodman who declared his solidarity with striking writers and fellow actors.

“Without the writers, we have nothing. I salute them every day,” Goodman said. “I know they’re overworked and underpaid and they deserve a bigger piece than what the studio overlords are willing to give them.”

WGAW members Bill Walker and Joel Madison, writer-producers on both Roseanne and the Roseanne Barr-produced show The Jackie Thomas Show, reconnected during the WGA Strong rally at the La Brea Tar Pits in June and quickly hatched the idea to get the series casts and crews back together for a reunion picket.  But Walker wasn’t about to let the L.A.-based Roseanne/The Conners cast and crew have all the fun. A writer-producer on Roseanne for three seasons, he put out the call and collected videos and memories from franchise members who were spread out across the globe.

“Lecey Goranson and Ames McNamara who play Becky and Mark are picketing in New York. Eric Gilliland, who was my showrunner, is also in New York, and he sent a great little message about the show,” said Walker who compiled his footage into a short film to share with the participants. “Lois Bromfield who was on staff with me sent a great video from Germany of her memories of the show and what the Guild meant to her.” 

Tom Arnold, a 35-year WGAW member who wrote and executive produced Roseanne, recalled moving to Los Angeles in 1988 and having his entry into the Guild delayed by the 1988 WGA strike. While still in his teens, he struck with his fellow Hormel meat packing workers in his native Iowa (a strike that was featured in Barbara Kopple’s 1990 Oscar-winning documentary, American Dream).

“That was a different kind of strike, but we ended up getting totally screwed over,” Arnold said. “They just fired us and changed the name on the outside of the building. They broke the union and hired scabs for half of what we made.”
Regarding the 2023 strike, Arnold noted Disney CEO Bob Iger’s infamous remark that the WGA and SAG-AFTRA’s strikes are occurring at the “worst time in the world.”

“When the other side says we’re striking at the wrong time, then you know it’s the right time,” Arnold said. “We’re together, and we’re going to get this worked out for sure. We’re on the right side.”

After years spent writing and producing network sitcoms, Walker stepped away from the business for 17 years to raise his children. He has returned to find writers facing challenges that he never previously experienced.

“I sort of feel like Rip Van Winkle waking up after 100 years,” Walker said. “The landscape has changed so much for writers with these short orders because we’re being paid by the episode. And the residual structure is so poor in streaming. I can’t believe the stories I’m reading about actors and writers who are posting their residual checks.”

Before landing his first sitcom job, Walker worked in a law firm in New York, a job he said he was fully prepared to go back to if his writer dreams didn’t pan out. But he was successful, and, after three and a half years as a staff writer, was able to buy a house.

“Nobody starting today can do that,” Walker said. “People in their 40s can’t buy a house today, and that’s crazy. If you’re working on a show that has success, then you should be part of that success. You should have health insurance, be able to support your family, and have a secure place to live.”

The Conners star John Goodman at Lanford at Radford reunion picket.

From the Writers Room to the Picket Line

WGAW members Valerie Chu and Amanda Mortlock at NBCUniversal

This wasn’t the bonding that either Amanda Chu or Amanda Mortlock expected to be sharing.

Having met seven months ago as staff writers on the upcoming CBS show Trackers, Chu and Mortlock now find themselves partners on the picket lines.

“We did our first staff writing gig together, and this is our first strike together,” said Chu, standing with Morlock on the pedestrian bridge above the Citywalk gate at NBCUniversal on a recent Friday. “Obviously, we want to be working, but the solidarity is incredible, not just within our union, but also seeing unions across the country standing together, so we feel very motivated.”

“We miss our room, but it’s been really nice to see everybody out,” added Mortlock.

A six-year WGAW member, Chu began her career as a writers’ assistant 10 years ago while Mortlock earned her WGAW card two days before the start of the current strike. As writers at the beginning of their career, the two friends see how important the next MBA will be to their futures.

“I started out on a network show of 22 episodes and it was steady work,” Chu said. “More and more, we’re seeing our friends dealing with mini-rooms and working six to ten weeks out of the year, if that.”

“There are so many issues on the table,” agreed Mortlock, “but, as a lower-level writer, mini-rooms and repeating staffing levels come to mind because it often feels like you’re treading water at the early stages of your career and trying to make this an actual career.”

ICYMI: See Photos from the Week of August 14-18