‘Accused’ Showrunner Howard Gordon Warns Writers Are ‘Not Learning the Whole Craft’ Due to Mini-Rooms

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It all comes down to writers feeling undervalued. That’s how Howard Gordon, showrunner of “Accused” and executive producer of beloved shows such as “24,” “Homeland” and “Tyrant,” described the WGA strike.

Fifteen years ago, Season 7 of “24” was delayed due to the writers’ strike. Now Gordon finds himself in an eerily similar place as his Fox drama comes to an end a week after another strike begins.

“What’s similar about it is, as always, just trying to find the compensation, the basic compensation,” Gordon told TheWrap. “Of course, there’s always going to be the A-list people who get great deals, but the disappearing middle class and even just the inability of working class writers to literally live in LA is a real thing.”

There’s been a lot of discussion about how complicated it is for writers to navigate the ever-changing world of streaming. But according to Gordon, it’s equally complicated for the WGA to cater to its own members, which include everyone from movie writers who haven’t worked since 1986 to young writers on reality shows. “What makes this more different [and] difficult than I’ve ever seen in my entire long career is that the Writers Guild, we’re not the pipe fitters. We’re not the teachers, not LAUSD,” Gordon said.

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To this industry veteran, imagining that they’re going to return to a world that existed before streaming is “naive.” But there’s one holdover from television and film’s past that is essential to its future: transparency. In the “old days” that weren’t so long ago, if Gordon made a show, he could call up the ratings line and figure out if his show was a hit or a flop.

“Now everything’s so obscured. I don’t know really what is a hit. I can’t quantify it,” Gordon said. “So I think transparency feels to me like the first order of business. Let’s open our kimonos and see what we’re worth. I don’t think writers would ask to be paid for something they’re not generating.”

Gordon also railed against the use of mini-rooms in television — an element of strike negotiations that’s fairly inside baseball. Exactly what constitutes a mini room varies from production to production. But as a general rule, they’re composed of a small group of writers who work on scripts for a new project over the course of several weeks. Studios and networks use these scripts to determine whether a project has potential and may move forward with a formal series order. Another version of the mini-room requires writers to work on scripts for an ongoing show so that the network can decide whether or not it will renew a project. They’re high-stress environments that can last eight to 10 weeks, during which time writers cannot take other projects. They also require writers to work in separate rooms rather than spend time on set.

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“Structurally, writers — and mezzanine writers, too — are not learning the whole craft,” Gordon said. Instead of spending time on the cutting room floor and learning from actors and directors what it really takes to make an episode of television, writers now have to pass on a script “because they’ve got to jump to another show.”

“It takes hours. It takes hours and days and years to get good at this. For me, anyway, it’s been a process,” Gordon said. “I worry that structurally the nomadic aspect of before orders and the span of things are going to have downstream problems in the quality.”

Above all, Gordon hopes that people are “reasonable” in these negotiations. He also believes that they can take a page from “Accused,” “in that please put yourself in the other person’s shoes for half a second.”

“We are going to resolve this. I just hope we do it sooner than later because it there’s a lot of collateral damage along the way,” Gordon said. “It makes me sad in the way that natural disasters and lawsuits and wars happen or ugly words between people. I hope it doesn’t get ugly. It will be, but I hope it doesn’t get too ugly so that things are said that can’t be unsaid.”

The finale of “Accused” airs Tuesday on Fox at 9/8c p.m.

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