Picket lines have been flooded with celebrities in the nine weeks since the Writers Guild of America first went on strike. In the past week, even more high-profile names, like Meryl Streep and Jennifer Lawrence, voiced support for an impending SAG-AFTRA strike that could be announced on July 13. So when a big name in the industry pushes back on the labor action even a little, they stand out. Ryan Murphy is the latest to be called out for potentially crossing the picket line and threatening legal action against one of the WGA’s top players.
According to The Hollywood Reporter, Murphy sent a letter from his attorney to Warren Leight, former WGA East Coast strike captain and Strike Rules Compliance Committee member, threatening to sue him over a tweet alleging Murphy was making American Horror Story crew members cross the picket line. In the since-deleted tweet, Leight claimed to have heard from an anonymous crew member, who said “they’ll be blackballed in Murphy-land” if they didn’t continue showing up to set. Leight eventually confirmed that the tweet was “unsubstantiated,” and he stepped back as co-chair of the Strike Rules Compliance Committee and as a strike captain.
Murphy’s representatives spoke out at the time, saying that those accusations were “absolute nonsense” and “categorically false.” But while he may not be crossing the picket line as a writer, Murphy hasn’t directly spoken out in support of the strike, despite being a member of the WGA West. As productions shut down across Los Angeles and New York in support of the strike, Murphy’s three productions on the East Coast — American Horror Story, American Horror Stories, and American Sports Story — continue to move forward. Murphy showing up on set in his capacity as a producer and director isn’t technically crossing the picket line, and according to a WGA strike captain, “He is following the letter of the law and going to set as a producer/showrunner/director and says he’s not doing writing — and no guild can convict somebody of conjecture.”
There’s no proof that he is in fact scabbing, and there are conflicting reports about whether or not he’s actually been on set — some sources say he’s crossed the picket line multiple times while others say he hasn’t been in New York at all in the past month. But WGA strikers are still targeting his sets for pickets, encouraging them to shut down. The longer they stay in production, the more it seems Murphy isn’t in support of the guild.
Murphy joins the ranks of Yellowstone creator Taylor Sheridan and Jeopardy! host Ken Jennings, both of whom have tiptoed around their feelings about the strike. In a June 21 interview with The Hollywood Reporter, Sheridan said that while he supports the strike broadly and hasn’t crossed the picket line, he doesn’t agree with the Guild’s demands for a staffing mandate for writers’ rooms. One of the things the WGA is fighting for on the picket line is a minimum staff level for writers’ rooms based on how many episodes are in a season of TV, in part to create greater job stability for writers and prevent the industry from turning into a gig economy.
Sheridan has different thoughts on the notion. “I’m really interested in the dirty of the relationships in literally every scene,” he said. “But when you hire a room that may not be motivated by those same qualities — and a writer always wants to take ownership of something they’re writing — and I give this directive and they’re not feeling it, then they’re going to come up with their own qualities. So for me, writers rooms, they haven’t worked.”
He continued: “If they tell me, ‘You’re going to have to write a check for $540,000 to four people to sit in a room that you never have to meet,’ then that’s between the studio and the guild. But if I have to check in creatively with others for a story I’ve wholly built in my brain, that would probably be the end of me telling TV stories.”
Just this week, Ken Jennings took over Jeopardy! hosting duties from Mayim Bialik after she announced in May that she would abstain in solidarity with writers on strike. (Jeopardy! writers have been active on the WGA picket lines since week one.) Jennings seemed to be an early supporter of the WGA strike, showing solidarity on Twitter back in April, but he’s had no response to the many people on social media who have called him out since, including Jeopardy! regular Wil Wheaton. In May, Wheaton wrote on Facebook, “This is a VERY small town, Ken Jennings, and we will all remember this. Your privilege may protect you right now, but we will *never* forget. #WGAStrong.”
Jennings is not part of the Writers Guild, and therefore technically isn’t crossing the picket line, though it’s unclear whether or not he’s a member of SAG-AFTRA and would be affected by that guild’s impending strike. Since it was announced on May 11 that he would take over Bialik’s half of the Jeopardy! hosting duties for the remainder of Season 39, he’s remained silent about the actions of both unions. When so many others have been so vocal with their support, silence speaks volumes.
Brianna Wellen is a TV Reporter at Primetimer who became obsessed with television when her parents let her stay up late to watch E.R.
TOPICS: Ryan Murphy, American Horror Stories, American Horror Story: Delicate, American Sports Story, Jeopardy!, Yellowstone, Ken Jennings, Taylor Sheridan, TV Writers' Strike, Writers Guild of America