WGA East Leaders Dispel Rumors That TV Creators & Showrunners Will Be Excluded From Sets During Restart

Creators and showrunners aren’t mentioned in the industry’s protocols for the safe reopening of TV production, but they’ll play key roles in on-set safety, according to leaders of the WGA East.

“There have been some rumors going around that the protocols aim to exclude creators, showrunners and writer/producers from set. This is not the case,” WGA East president Beau Willimon and executive director Lowell Peterson told members Tuesday.

Those rumors may have been sparked by the fact that WGA East and WGA West, which together represent nearly all TV creators, showrunners, and writer-producers, didn’t take part directly in drafting the Industry-Wide Labor Management Safety Committee Task Force’s “white paper,” or the separate “Safe Way Forward” guidelines established by SAG-AFTRA, IATSE, the DGA and Teamsters Local 399 to implement the white paper.

Willimon and Peterson noted, however, that the guild was not excluded from providing input to the reopening protocols.

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“The WGAE has participated in this process by convening meetings of our showrunner members to discuss draft proposals, listening to members’ concerns, and submitting ideas to our sister unions and to government, particularly in New York,” they said.

The four unions’ “Safe Way Forward” protocols note that “absolutely no visitors” will be allowed on closed sets, and that “Limits will apply to producers, writers, studio or network executives and location contacts. Important parties should participate virtually.”

“While early drafts of the task force white paper delineated who should be on set in a way that was limiting, our input led to revised recommendations, and the actual L.A. County protocols are not exclusionary,” Willimon and Peterson said.

The LA County Department of Public Health’s guidelines (read them here) stipulate that “Only essential cast and crew should be on or near the set at any time.”

“Certainly creators, showrunners and writer/producers are essential, so these protocols do not prohibit their participation on set,” the WGA East leaders said. “In practice, networks and studios must consult with creators, showrunners and writer/producers in developing show-specific protocols because the successful implementation of those protocols (and successful production of the series) will require their input and leadership.”

They said that protocols for filming in New York “are still being developed,” and noted that “We are in close communication with Governor [Andrew] Cuomo’s office. Among our goals is to make sure that creator, showrunner and writer/producer access to set is protected.”

“Our members who work as showrunners and executive and co-executive producers play a unique role in the production of series for television and for SVOD platforms like Netflix, Amazon, and Disney+,” they said. “They both craft and produce the series, and both of these functions have a real impact on the safety of the cast and crew. We recognize that the hard work of getting the work done safely will require careful analysis, conversation, and negotiation on a series-by-series basis. These conversations with our own members, sister unions, studios, networks, and local/state government are ongoing. We will continue to play an important role in protecting and advocating for our members as protocols are developed, implemented and evolved.

“But to be clear on the role of writers with respect to production, it is important to reinforce during this evolving process that writers also function as producers in all television/SVOD series. Showrunners have enormous responsibility for every aspect of their series, including pre- and post-production and, of particular relevance here, production itself. In addition to the showrunner, at least one other writer must work on set during production, typically, but not always, the writer who wrote the episode. The safety of these writer-producers is imperative – as is their direct involvement in the conversations and decisions about safety and health on the production. Each production will present unique challenges and our members will be part of the decision-making process from conception to development to pre-production to production to post-production.

“We look forward to working with our sister unions to ensure that the safety of everyone involved in all of these phases is paramount.”

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