Marta Kauffman Teases Star-Studded ‘Give Back-Ular’ Fundraiser For Strike-Impacted Crews, Talks WGA Deal, Streaming Vs. Broadcast & Another ‘Friends’ Reunion

TV

Film and TV crew members and support staff have been hit hard by the double Hollywood strikes. The latest relief effort, announced last month, comes from Friends co-creator Marta Kauffman, Paul McCrane and Paul Scheer, who are spearheading a live fundraising event in partnership with The Union Solidarity Coalition.

Titled Give Back-ular Spectacular!, the two-hour variety show at The Orpheum Theatre, which will be live-streamed, will showcase about 30 performers, including Jeremy Allen White, Halle Berry, Bryan Cranston, Lily Tomlin, Lil Dicky, LeVar Burton, Kumail Nanjiani and Patton Oswalt. It will feature games, sketches, standup, some improv, musical acts as well as magic from Penn & Teller.

Without revealing too much to not ruin the surprises, Kauffman teased some of the numbers.

“Let me just say, we have a sketch about out-of-work actors auditioning for Magic Mike,” she said. “We have wonderful actors doing monologues they should never be doing, we have a game called Don’t Get Me Started, we have a game called Fame Whore, amazing standup — Ray Romano Janelle James, Nicole Byer — Lawrence the band, Michael McKean and Rachel Bloom are doing something together, and Jack Black is doing a performance. It’s got a little bit of everything”

Tickets for the show are still available on the event’s Web site. Donations, which will be distributed through the Motion Picture & Television Fund, also can be made there.

Give Back-ular Spectacular! originated with McCrane “saying, ‘I have an idea, let’s get a barn and put on a show’,” Kauffman said. He then approached Kauffman and Robbie Rowe Tollin who brought in Paul Scheer; all three of them have fundraiser experience.

“We all feel very strongly about doing something for the people who didn’t choose this labor dispute but supported us,” said Kauffman who serves as showrunner for the event.

The talent lineup includes one actor from a previous Kauffman series, Grace & Frankie‘s Tomlin who starred on the Netflix series alongside Jane Fonda.

“Yes, Lily came because I asked her; Jane was going to but she’s out of town doing one of her many unbelievable political activities that she does,” Kauffman said.

A veteran TV creator, Kauffman has served as showrunner/co-showrunner on a number of series, including Friends for NBC and Grace and Frankie for Netflix.

But in terms of showrunner duties, “this might be the hardest one because we have fewer people working on it and we’re doing everything,” Kauffman said. That includes things she had never had to deal with, including the technical aspect of streaming the event, sitting down with one actor at a time vs. holding a table read with the entire cast and tackling game shows, something she got help on from game show writers.

“It’s all very fresh and new and hard as f*ck. But very worthwhile and exciting. And it will be live, that’s always fun and scary,” Kauffman said.

It is worthwhile because of the cause, providing financial support to crews and support staff — not just in Los Angeles and New York but also in other production hubs around the country — who have been affected by the strike-related production shutdown.

Kauffman spoke of the value crew members bring to a production beyond their core duties.

“I think about things like, we were shooting something [on Grace and Frankie], and it just wasn’t feeling quite romantic enough. And the gaffer came up to me and said, ‘What if we put up a moon’, and it was a great idea,” she said. “We imagined doing an episode, and the hair and makeup people made it real, they made it happen. Even though we wrote it, it wasn’t until they were in hair and makeup that we went, Oh my God, that’s what it is. That’s how that works’. We’ve had PAs get jokes in scripts.”

Those production staffers have been struggling financially; most of them have gone without a paycheck for at least six months as filming started slowing down dramatically in the spring, in anticipation of a potential WGA strike. The writers went on strike May 2, followed by the actors July 14.

“In terms of what I’m hearing from crew members now is, they really want the strike to be over,” Kauffman said. “They just want it to be over, they want to get back to work, and we all want them to get back to work but not until the actors get a good deal. But they understandably want to get back to work.”

SAG-AFTRA remains on strike. WGA reached an agreement with the studios late last month, which has been ratified.

“One of the things for me that was extremely important is that we saved the writers room,” Kauffman said about the new deal. “It was important to me because the only way we’re going to have a future generation of showrunners is if we have a current generation of the mid and the lower level writers having the experience to be in charge of their own episode, to be part of all the creative decisions, to be able to be on set, to rewrite on the spot. They need that experience, so that is wonderful.

“The AI thing is great, although it’s not that it’s going to be a change for the future, neither of these are actually changes for the future. The residuals, this is something that we should have gotten a long time ago, it’s wonderful and I think it will make a huge difference to a lot of writers. But honestly, I never planned on changing the way I do a room, and what I do in a room is I have a lot of people.”

Kauffman spent the WGA strike like many other guild members.

“I went to the picket lines. I have a bad back so I can only go about three days a week,” she said, adding, “Otherwise I was home, we talked about documentaries during that period because that’s not covered by WGA, and I got Covid.”

Through her production company Okay Goodnight, Kauffman is working on a couple of TV documentary and scripted projects as well as one improv one.

Kauffman has had hit series on both broadcast and streaming under different business models, and she wouldn’t mind going back to either medium.

“For me personally, I really enjoyed my experience doing streaming because the way we did it then was once they said it’s ago, we went straight to doing 13 episodes. And that was a whole new experience rather than, you do a pilot, you learn from the pilot, you do this to it, you do that too, and then you start with Episode 2. This is just, you’re shot out of a cannon, and there’s something I really liked about that,” Kauffman said.

“But I have to say on the other hand, networks are appealing right now. They’re really appealing right now. They’re starting to show that they can do quality work again — not that they haven’t in bits and pieces — but with things like Abbott Elementary where you go, Oh my god, this is what’s been missing from broadcast comedy. I would go back to broadcast if something came up that belonged there.”

Friends: The Reunion

One thing that is not in Kauffman’s future — another Friends reunion to follow the 2021 one, which took years to get off the ground.

“I think we’re done with the reunion,” she said.

Would Kauffman revisit Grace and Frankie, which previously had contemplated a spinoff?

“I’d like to do a wrap party because we never had one because of Covid,” she quipped.

As for Give Back-ular Spectacular!, which is also produced by Jesse Schiller, Tony Phelan, Tara Miele and Kate Wagener, it may have reawakened an old passion in Kauffman.

“I love TV, I really do. But I would love to do theater again at some point,” she said. “I think I’m better at television than I am in theater so maybe I should just stay where I am and stay in my lane. But I miss doing theater.”

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