(Terence Long/WGAW)The WGA lobbed a grenade at Tyler Perry near the tail end of last week, accusing his production house of firing several union writers in retaliation for them trying to bring the show under a union contract. It goes without saying that Perry denied firing them because they were trying to unionize, since doing so is against the law, opting instead to say that the writers were fired because they aren't very good writers.
According to a letter sent out by Patric Verrone, the four writers in question were warned that they should "be careful about pushing the WGA deal or you could be replaced." If those statements can be proven -- and they probably can't be (but that doesn't mean the WGA can't win this with the NLRB) -- it would pretty much drop the legal hammer on Perry. I don't see the value in inventing threats of this sort and given the success of the show in question, it seems unlikely that these writers were fired for cause. I'm not personally familar with House of Payne, other than to say that its ratings have been pretty darn good for TBS which really deflates Perry's argument that the writers weren't pulling their weight.
To the contrary, it paints a pretty clear picture of a guy that not only doesn't care about his own writing staff, but also flaunts the law as if it doesn't apply to him.
Verrone's response to the firings was to organize a picket at the opening of Perry's new studio, which kind of begs the question, what kind of person fires his writers for trying to unionize right before he opens a shiny new studio instead of afterward? Stupid is not shy and apparently his name is Tyler Perry.
Nikke Finke has the full WGA statement on the firings and the picket plans (which have now come to pass) along with pictures of the protest. The re-use of the WGA strike signs from earlier this year was a nice touch, don't you think? I like the message it sends, that writers aren't going to let up and let themselves be pushed around now that they've gotten a new contract.
With SAG ready to call for a strike authorization vote perhaps any day now, it's also a bit galling to hear that Will Smith attended the event which means he crossed the WGA picket line. If SAG does end up on strike this year, I imagine a great number of writers will, when possible, join the picket lines in solidarity just as many actors did during the WGA strike. Writers owe SAG a lot for their support and both unions are clearly stronger when they work together and support each other, so yeah, it's sad to see a big name like Will Smith cross a picket line on the eve of a possible SAG walkout.
It doesn't send a real great message, does it?
Finke also has a letter signed by a lot of influential talent in the WGA sent to Perry. Of the names on the list, one of several that stand out is Matthew Weiner, who just won an Emmy for his writing on Mad Men, which just won an Emmy for Outstanding Drama. That's a lot of new weight being thrown behind the cause. Shonda Rhimes, showrunner of Grey's Anatomy, is also on there, which is a pretty big deal. Maybe not to TBS, but Perry it really ought to mean something. These people's words carry weight and the WGA is in a strong position to shut that show down by keeping union writers away if there isn't a union contract.
Bill Lawrence for Scrubs signed his name, as did Marc Cherry for Desperate Housewives, Tina Fey is always going to be there because she's Tina-feaking-Fey, and there are some WGA board members in there as well.
Not that letters are going to make any difference, but still, it's extra crap on the pile and eventually some of that stink is going to get on Perry's previously solid reputation. Oddly, House of Payne is covered by SAG and the DGA, just not the WGA.