Writers on the Line

On the Line
Showrunner Solidarity
Hundreds of showrunners turn out at Fox to send a message of unity, new showrunner Adam Starks on why “these are necessary days,” and Jack Burditt’s five-hour picket commute
Wednesday, September 13, 2023

This is What Showrunner Solidarity Looks Like

The Showrunner Solidarity picket at Fox. Photo by J.W. Hendricks.

In a massive display of unity, hundreds of WGA showrunners, SAG-AFTRA performers and supporters picketed at Fox Studios Tuesday alongside actors and hundreds of supporters as part of the Showrunner Solidarity picket. They delivered a collective message of union strength: as Fox lot coordinator and co-organizer Amy E. Berg said, “there are no cracks in our foundation, and we are here as long as it takes to support everyone in our union."

Participants donated more than 625 gift cards to businesses like grocery stores, Target, and Amazon. The cards will be given to series support staff in need during the upcoming IATSE Appreciation Day picket at Fox on Tuesday, September 19. 

Below are voices from showrunners who were part of the special picket.

“It’s unprecedented in my career, and I’ve been in the Guild since 1990, to see this level of urgency and unity. I think we all can see this is a pivotal time, and that the whole industry is sort of at a fork in the road. We are trying to move forward towards something more equitable, something which allows writers who are the foundation of this [industry]to be fairly paid, and to find a way to continue to attract the best and the brightest.” – Aline Brosh McKenna (Crazy Ex-Girlfriend and picket co-organizer)

“We are all here united in this same path, which is to get a good deal, to get back to the table, and to get back to work. Part of our solidarity is not just with each other but with the rest of the union, and that’s why we’re here showing ourselves and flying our colors.” – Eric Heisserer – (Shadow and Bone and WGA Negotiating Committee member)

“I’ve been amazed at how united the WGA is along with SAG-AFTRA and IATSE. It’s been a profoundly unifying experience, and I think at this stage of the strike, more than 130 days in, it’s important for the showrunners, the people we look to in this town, to step up and show that we’re still united and still solidified.” – Alexi Hawley (The Rookie)

“We want to know how can we continue to be leaders and help set a tone of positivity and understanding. This has been really long and everyone’s exhausted. Sometimes it’s nice to hear that you’re just not alone.” – Emily Fox (The Watchful Eye)

“We’ve been on the lines for a long time, and everyone thought it would be done by now. So I think these kinds of get-togethers are really important to have a sense of camaraderie and to remind each other why we’re doing this. We’re doing it for the next generation. I was here for the 2007-08 strike, and you have to always think ahead to the next people.” – Lizzy Weiss (Sorry for Your Loss)

“We’re marching and picketing and striking for the future of our industry and for the next generation of showrunners, and frankly for all writers and directors and actors. But certainly, we’re here as WGA members. I think if you ask almost any showrunner, we’re not out here for us. We’re out here for people who don’t have our privilege or have not yet gotten our opportunities.” – Tim Federle (High School Musical: The Musical: The Series)

“We have a lot of really wonderful funds that are still up and running and well-funded, and I think this is more like a boots-on-the-ground, how can we not just make sure funds get into people’s hands, but in a very personal way, of letting them know we’ve got your back, we believe in you, and we appreciate all of your support – Amy E. Berg (Counterpart and picket co-organizer

Showrunner Solidarity picket co-organizers Amy E. Berg and Aline Brosh McKenna. Photo by J.W. Hendricks.

Built for a Marathon: Adam Starks

WGAW member Adam Starks.
Picketers are starting to arrive for the morning shift at NBCUniversal. WGAW member Adam Starks, among the first on the scene at the Citywalk Gate, is as optimistic about the future as he is angry about the circumstances that have placed him and his fellow WGA and SAG-AFTRA picketers on the lines in the first place.

“It’s a marathon, and not everybody is built for a marathon,” said Starks. “We get it. People’s feet are sore. The rumor mill is constantly swirling. There are good days and bad days, but these are necessary days.”

A five-year Guild member, Starks had just finished running his first room on the series Freeman, when the strike hit. He’s hopeful the series will get picked up to series once a new contract is in place and everybody gets back to work. If that happens, it would be a major step in a journey that has taken Starks from Starz intern to what he calls “baby showrunner” and beyond.

Starks did not start his career in the entertainment industry. The Springfield, MA native went from high school into the U.S. Army National Guard. He worked for several years as an insurance adjustor for Geico and turned to acting and writing as a creative outlet, all while based on the East Coast.

“I realized, ‘Holy shit, I’m a pretty decent writer,” Starks said, “or as my wife keeps telling me, ‘You’re a better writer than you are an actor.’ So OK, I guess that’s what I’m going for then.”

Starks went back to school and the family eventually relocated to L.A. Following an internship with Starz, Starks worked his way up through development and production and ultimately to the Netflix series On My Block, on which he worked as a writer and at the producer level.

The series itself helped further his education, and Starks filled in the gaps on his own.

“In between seasons of On My Block, I jumped around from show to show, and in the meantime, I was still developing and trying to get my own stuff out there,” Starks said. “I met some really cool people who really enjoyed my writing, and next thing you know, I have shows in development at different places. The whole time, I just kept working, kept writing, kept insisting on being part of as much of the television-making process as I could, and it worked.”

Along the way, Starks worked with WGAW members like The Vampire Diaries showrunner Julie Plec, who provided valuable insight and guidance. He also co-created the show Lace.

“So now this is the next step,” he said of Freeman. “I want to make sure that others will have the opportunity to come up through the industry the way that I did. There’s opportunities and timing and stuff like that, but it’s getting slim for the next wave, and we need to make sure that we’re fostering that next generation of showrunners and storytellers.”

Logging some Miles: Jack Burditt

WGAW member Jack Burditt at Disney. Photo by J.W. Hendricks

Twice a week, Jack Burditt drives to the picket lines from Los Olivos, a small community in the Santa Barbara wine country where he has lived for the past five years. In good traffic, the drive takes him two hours. More often, on his picketing days, Burditt is in his car for five hours round-trip.

He’s not complaining. “This is important,” the 30-year WGAW member said simply, referring to the strike.

“I work with a lot of young writers,” he added. “I was fortunate to have done it when I did it, but the way things are going, they’ll never be able to buy a house in L.A. I feel that the studios know that younger writers are going to come out and do free work just to get the experience, and the studios will take advantage of it. So I’m out here for them. I’m out here for the younger writers.”

As he laps the Disney Studios lot on a recent Monday, Burditt is on familiar ground. He grew up in Burbank and attended nearby Jordan Junior High School (now Dolores Huerta Middle School). He joined the WGAW doing a re-write on an unproduced Disney project and wrapped a Disney+ project weeks before the strike. He has been an executive producer on series ranging from 30 Rock to Frasier, Modern Family, and Unbreakable Kimmy Schmitt. Also the creator of Last Man Standing and The Santa Clauses, Burditt is a five-time Emmy winner and four-time Writers Guild Award winner (out of 13 nominations)

Writing was almost not his career. The son of two WGAW members, George and Joyce Burditt, Jack Burditt worked at Lockheed and later went into journalism, writing for the Los Angeles Daily News and Los Angeles Herald Examiner. A couple of colleagues at the Daily News were interested in trying their hand at screenplays, so he started tinkering with scripts.

“I was a little reluctant, only because my parents did it so well, and I didn’t want to be the dummy in the family,” said Burditt with a laugh. “But eventually I started writing scripts, and I was like, ‘Oh, I really enjoy this. I really enjoy the process.’ I wish I had paid more attention to what my parents were doing because there was a learning curve.”

After getting hired as a reader for Disney, Burditt started learning the art of screenwriting. A rewrite of an unproduced movie for Jeffrey Katzenberg got Burditt into the WGAW.

The legacy of Burditt family TV writers has reached its third generation, as his daughter, Emalee, is also a WGAW member. Father and daughter have picketed together, although Emalee more often pickets at NBCUniversal.

“So, yeah, she’s one of the reasons I’m out here,” Jack Burditt said. “I don’t think it will ever go back to the way things were, but it shouldn’t be this miserable. The younger writers should actually have some optimism about their future, and they don’t right now.”