Writers on the Line

On the Line
Two Unions, One Family
The family that strikes together, the Benson sisters go live on the lines, and the residuals are out there at Fox
Tuesday, July 18, 2023

One Family, Two Unions, on One Picket Line

SAG-AFTRA member Matt Bush, his wife, WGAW member Kerri Doherty and their daughter Zelda at the Fox picket line.
Now that SAG-AFTRA is on strike, Kerri Doherty and Matt Bush can walk the lines together not merely as an act of marital solidarity, but as a two-union household, both of whose members are striking for better working conditions within the industry.

On Monday, Doherty (a WGAW member for eight years) arrived at Fox Studios for family picket duty with her husband, SAG-AFTRA member Bush, and their two-year-old daughter Zelda.

“This industry has really shifted and now it’s up to the AMPTP to shift with it and to pay us a living wage to reflect that change in the industry,” said Doherty. “As a writer having been out here for awhile, I’m really happy that SAG is fighting for it as well, and that we’re all in this together now.”

Doherty is concerned that the unregulated growth of AI could end up replacing writers. Minimum room sizes are also of great importance since Doherty says shrinking room sizes mean fewer job opportunities.

“I’m an executive story editor because I had to repeat staff three times,” said Doherty, whose credits include Schooled and Play by Play. “That’s a common problem.”

Bush, who has played Andy Cogan for nine seasons on The Goldbergs,  expressed a sense of both pride and duty over being on the picket line. He echoed the sentiment of SAG-AFTRA President Fran Drescher, who contended that unions currently on strike are making a stand on behalf of all workers.

“So we’re fighting for my profession, for my wife’s profession, for our household, for the industry and then it almost feels like it’s even bigger than that,” said Bush.

“Hopefully, we’re setting a precedent for other businesses and any other labor unions who could be fighting for the same thing,” agreed Doherty.

Those Twitch-y Benson Sisters

WGAW members Julie and Shawna Benson at Universal.

Sisters who bitch together, Twitch together.

Since the start of the strike, sisters, WGAW members and writing partners Shawna and Julie Benson have been live-streaming their picket line activity on Twitch. It’s a platform that they know and which, to this point, they have not seen people use extensively for strike coverage.

And there’s another advantage to using the platform. Amazon owns Twitch, and people who subscribe to their channel have to pay the creators a $2 fee. The Benson sisters have a plan for these funds.

"Basically, we’re taking money from Amazon and turning it around and donating it to the Entertainment Community Fund,” said Shawna.

The stream is all about raising awareness for people who are interested in the WGA strike but can’t make it out to the picket lines. The channel has attracted a regular viewership from across the country, as well as a handful of writers internationally. The livestream episodes are archived as videos that people can also watch.

“We did it at first to kind of show what was going on in the first few days, and then we kept doing because people gave us that feedback that it is helping them connect more to the cause,” said Shawna. “We talk a lot about what are the options, how people can contribute, whether it’s financially to the ECF or through any of the efforts of supporters on Twitter or Facebook groups.”

Added Julie, “I think the biggest surprise for me with the Twitch channel has been the number of international viewers that are curious about the strike. We’re able to get the word out to them and they see that we’re out here every day, and we’re sweating it out. I think there is support in that.”

In the comments of their stream, the Benson sisters often hear from people who say that the quality of entertainment has been diminished. That’s not accidental, they say, given changes brought about in the way studios do business as a result of the streaming boom.

When Shawna and Julie were starting their careers, the ecosystem was friendlier to writers. The WGA is on strike because things have changed so drastically.

“The studios and the streamers in particular have really compressed the amount of time that we have to do the work that we feel is needed,” said Shawna. “Very often, the people that you would rely upon to oversee things in production are not there anymore. The production is being pushed to long after the room has wrapped and all of the episodes have been written and you have just the showrunner really doing the job. It’s not allowing anyone to be mentored or learn the ropes of how to make television in the best way possible.”

They acknowledge that a livestreamed strike journal will include a plenty of walking, looking at people’s backs, and looking at signs.

“But it’s also seeing the solidarity and seeing the other unions that have come out and are walking in support with us,” said Shawna. “Seeing those things, whether or not you are connected to the industry, it gives you a much better picture of what’s really happening.”

In addition to hearing the thoughts of their viewers both locally and across the pond about topics pertaining to the WGA strike, the Benson sisters’ Twitch stream has a regular visitor.

“Our mom checks in to make sure we’re getting enough water,” said Julie.

Check out their stream here.

The Truth is Out There at Fox!

The X-Files star and WGAW member David Duchovny poses for photos. Photo by J.W. Hendricks 

The truth – whether it’s “out there” or somewhere else – is that writers are getting shafted.

As they gathered at Fox Studios for a reunion of writers, producers, actors, and crew from the sci-fi series The X-Files, WGAW writers who worked on the hit series delighted in the opportunity to see each other again while simultaneously bemoaning the broken state of the industry that made the circumstances of this picket possible.

“A show like The X-Files, nobody is sure this kind of work could happen again,” said John Shiban, a writer and executive producer on the series. “We did 22 to 24 episodes a season. Fox made a lot of money, and the studios and streamers are still making a lot of money, but it’s not coming down to us like it used to, and that’s just not fair.”

“I was only on the show for three years, but two weeks ago, I got a decent residual check for work that I did on that show 20 years ago,” added Jeffrey Bell, who credits The X-Files with launching his TV career.

In the years since their time on The X-Files, Shiban (Breaking Bad, Ozark) and Bell (Alias, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.) have both worked as producers and showrunners on successful series. Having both walked the lines in the 2007-08 WGA strike, both men acknowledge the unity and solidarity on the lines during the current action.

“When the leadership laid it out for us, the showrunners, what was at stake for everyone, it was kind of a no-brainer,” said Bell.

Writers and cast of The X-Files at Fox. Photo by J.W. Hendricks

Why We Strike

Throughout this negotiating cycle, writers have been speaking up about our personal experiences working over the past several years. These stories highlight precisely why we are on strike and why our proposals are so critical to the future of this profession.

"One of the things feature writers are fighting for this strike is to finally make the studios admit that it doesn’t matter if you’re writing for the big screen or streaming. The work is the same, so the pay should be too."

Read the full story here.