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Fi-Core Writers Continue To Pen General Hospital Amid WGA And SAG-AFTRA Strikes

Soap opera employs writers with Fi-Core status, sparking controversy amidst ongoing industry strikes.

The longer the WGA and SAG-AFTRA strikes go on, the more often we are all reminded that many aspects of the television business aren’t on most people’s radar. And yesterday, that reminder came courtesy of the daytime soap General Hospital.

Breckin Meyer walks the picket line in support of the SAG-AFTRA and WGA strike on July 25, 2023, in Los Angeles, California. (BLW MEDIA/GETTY IMAGES) 

Earlier this week one of the show writers, Shannon Peace, shared news on her Instagram account, saying, “Starting next week, the show will be penned exclusively by scab writers which is heartbreaking.” That prompted a series of stories from various entertainment news outlets on Tuesday, repeating that statement and at least hinting that somehow the show’s new writers were breaking the WGA strike.

WGA is broken down in two regions for WGAE (East) headquareted in New York City and WGAW (West) headquartered in Los Angeles.

This brings us to the complicated world of so-called “Fi-Core” members of the WGA-East and WGA-West and the well-established policy of Fi-Core writers keeping daytime soaps on the air during WGA strikes.

Actors on daytime soaps are allowed to continue working even during a SAG-AFTRA strike. While they are members of the union, daytime soap actors work under a different contract called the National Code of Fair Practice For Network Broadcasting or NetCode. Its history is a bit complicated, but it harkens back to the days before SAG and AFTRA merged, and it covers non-primetime shows like soaps, along with news shows, game shows, and unscripted reality shows. The current NetCode contract runs through July 2024, so any actor on a daytime soap is contractually required to continue working during the current strike.

The writing part of daytime soaps has its own complications. While members of the WGA are prohibited from working during a strike, members can resign their membership in the WGA to become “financial core” non-members. These members don’t pay union dues, although they do take advantage of the benefits of the WGA contract. Most importantly, these Fi-Core members can continue to write during a WGA strike. 

The WGA prohibits members who opt to become Fi-Core from running for Guild offices, attending Guild meetings or events, and they can’t vote in elections, contract negotiations or strike authorizations.

The idea of fi-core members is not unique to the WGA and in fact, it comes out of a 1963 Supreme Court case – National Labor Relations Board Vs. General Motors – which decided that while employees could not be forced to become union members, they would be required to pay a “fee” that would cover a share of the union’s collective bargaining costs. The ruling applies to every union in the United States, including the WGA.

The WGA does rightfully note that the number of members who have opted to become Fi-Core is very small. Although it does include some well-known names. Including George Clooney, Tyler Perry, John Ridley, Garry Trudeau, Robert Rodriguez, Steven Soderbergh, and George Lucas.

Vannessa Vasquez walks the picket line in support of the SAG-AFTRA and WGA strike on July 25, 2023, in Los Angeles, California. (JFIZZY/GETTY IMAGES)

There are a variety of reasons why these familiar names opted for Fi-Core status. Tyler Perry reportedly has a strong dislike of the WGA and its practices, while George Clooney became Fi-Core following the result of a WGA decision in a credit arbitration vote that he would not get screen credit on Leatherheads.

But a number of the less well-known WGA writers opting for Fi-Core status do so to continue writing on various daytime soaps.

Using Fi-Core writers during a strike dates back to at least 1988, when around five WGA members went Fi-Core to continue working on soaps (the union didn’t release the names at the time).

There was a larger number who went Fi-Core during the 2008 strike and at that time, the WGA released a list of members who had gone Fi-Core. Some decided to continue working during the strike, but some had previously made the decision for other reasons.

Fi-Core members listed for the WGA East in 2008 were: Priscilla Kay Alden, James Harmon Brown, Michael Conforti, Victor Gialanella, Josh Griffith, Frances Myers, and Pete T. Rich.

Listed for the WGA West: Maria Arena, Marlene Poulter Clark, John F. Cosgrove, Cwikly, Esensten, Jeanne M. Grunwell, Dena Higley, Mark Christopher Higley, Meg Kelly, Michelle Poteet Lisanti, Terry A. Meuer, Shawn Morrison, James E. Reilly, Ridley, Sheffer, John F. Smith, Darrell R. Thomas Jr., Gary Tomlin, Janine Vogelaar and Garin Wolf.

Some of those writers have subsequentally died or are no longer in the business. But it’s a good snapshot of the situation in 2008.

All of this is a way of explaining that the new writing staff at General Hospital may not be that new, but they are almost certainly writers who have opted for Fi-Core status. And more importantly, that daytime soap is not the only one using Fi-Core writers.

Here is the current list of Fi-Core WGA West members and here is a link to the current WGA East list. Although it’s not clear how current either list might be and whether or not any WGA members have opted for Fi-Core status in recent weeks.

But it’s worth noting the current WGA East Fi-Core list includes Michael Conforti III (who wrote for Guiding Light from 1990-2000 and General Hospital from 2001-2012 and currently works on The Young And The Restless); Victor Gialanella (who wrote for several soaps, including a 1995-2012 run on Days Of Our Lives); Josh Griffith (who has worked on-and-off for The Young And The Restless since 2006 and is now currently its head writer); Daran Little (a UK-based writer who has written on EastEnders since 2010, but declared Fi-Core in the U.S. in 2008 to write scripts for All My Children); Frances Myers Newman (has worked on Days Of Our Lives since 1999) and Pete Rich (who worked on several soaps, most recently a 2011-2012 stint on Days Of Our Lives).

As you might imagine, neither the shows nor the writers are eager to discuss this aspect of the business and so far everyone I have reached out to on the subject has declined to comment on the record.

One interesting wrinkle in this story is that for the most part, most soap fans I have spoken with have come to terms with their favorite shows using Fi-Core writers. They tend to see daytime soaps as being an endangered species and worry that months of reruns would effectively knock their favorite shows off the air. Although that same argument could also be made for shows in other endangered genres such as late-night talk shows.

So while WGA members and some viewers might consider these Fi-Core writers as strikebreakers, they are working legally, and they have become a regular if unwelcome feature during any WGA strike.

Produced in association with AllYourScreens

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