A look at the hard choices facing show runners
By Maria Elena Fernandez
Times Staff Writer
After a day of show-runner power and solidarity, “Scrubs” creator and show runner Bill Lawrence, who said he has not worked since the strike began, learned a hard personal lesson about the line between him and his staff.
Lawrence was picketing Thursday morning at Disney with his writing staff when he got a call from a line producer that pickets were disrupting the shooting of an exterior scene of his show at North Hollywood Hospital, where the NBC comedy is filmed.
The producer also told him that one of the “Scrubs” electricians had gotten into an altercation with a picketing writer and that “the crew was feeling very angry toward me because they’re not really supportive of the strike and they are living hand to mouth and they don’t want the show to be shut down,” Lawrence said.
Lawrence abandoned his strike post and drove to the set on Riverside Drive, which he later assessed “was probably dumb for me to do.” When he arrived there were about a dozen or so strikers with bullhorns and whistles disrupting a scene between stars Zach Braff and Sarah Chalke.
“When I got over there, I promise you, I was angry, but all I was angry about was that I saw six faces that I knew and I said, ‘Any one of you guys could have called me and said, "We’re going to go shut your show down." ’ I wouldn’t have said don’t do that, but, man, I could have protected myself and told everyone to behave well and this is what’s going on and why it’s happening.”
Strike captain Michael Jamin, an executive producer on “Rules of Engagement,” said he and a group of pickets spontaneously decided to leave CBS' Radford studios for the “Scrubs” location when they learned from the Writer’s Guild that the single-camera comedy was shooting outdoors. A few crew members “had unkind words for us, but I get that because they have to pay their bills too,” Jamin said.
“When Bill arrived he was a little upset that he hadn’t been warned that we were going to picket his show because he felt it was embarrassing for him, that his crew members would think he would try to shut down his own show, but he immediately calmed down and said, ‘Listen, I’m on your side,' ” Jamin said.
The situation spells out the awkward and tough predicament show runners will increasingly find themselves in as they stay away from the projects and people they hold dear to stand by their principles.
“Show runners are in a tough position. You want to support the union but at the same time you want to support your crew,” noted “Rules of Engagement” writer Sivert Glarum, who was also picketing “Scrubs.”
Lawrence said his crew members were angry with him because they thought he alerted the Guild to the shoot. (He says he did not.) “It’s such a fragile relationship because, as much as you try to talk, it’s a very hard conversation to have when you want to explain to everybody that I’m not trying to take money off their table during the holidays,” Lawrence said. “It’s an important issue. It’s not about rich writers getting richer. It’s about protecting the younger writers and the rank and file from being taken advantage of. And no, I’m not using my inside information to take you over. Because as a crew they are living in constant fear that this is their last paycheck.”
In the end, the Guild scored a victory. “Scrubs” was not able to produce the scene it needed, prompting Braff and Chalke to leave and join the show’s writers on the picket line at Disney.
“Anybody should picket anywhere their heart tells them to,” Lawrence said. "If you want to shut down a feature film, or a TV show, I understand. But the second side is that so many people have to protect their relationships with crew members that are suffering a lot more than us that I just think when you're on your way over, it might be a nice moment of etiquette to be respectful of the crews — because they’re not necessarily that supportive and we need their support — and also to inform whoever’s TV show or movie it is that you’re going.”