John Wells wins Writers Guild president’s post, again

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John Wells, the executive producer behind the hit TV shows ‘ER’ and ‘The West Wing,’ has been elected for the second time as president of the Writers Guild of America, West, ending a tight race that brought to the surface sharp divisions inside the powerful writers union.

Wells, a former WGA president, defeated former ‘MASH’ and ‘Frasier’ writer Elias Davis, the union’s secretary treasurer who had been endorsed by the outgoing president, Patric M. Verrone, who led the union during a 100-day strike that ended last year.


Wells backed the writers strike but criticized outgoing leadership for alienating the directors union, waging an unsuccessful campaign to organize workers in the reality TV sector and adopting overly confrontational tactics with industry executives. A powerful figure in the television industry, Wells, also an executive producer on ‘Southland,’ was favored to win because of his name recognition and past experience as union president, between 1999 and 2001.

Still, the contest was closer than many expected, thanks to aggressive campaigning by Davis and his supporters who sought to portray Wells as someone who couldn’t be trusted to stand up for writers because of his ties to studio management and his role during last year’s strike. Wells keeps an office on the Warner Bros. lot. Supporters countered that his knowledge of the industry and negotiating skills would be an asset to the 8,000-member union.

In one of the more ugly exchanges during the election, Verrone and John F. Bowman, former head of the union’s chief negotiation committee, openly accused Wells of undermining negotiations last year by engaging in secret talks with the Directors Guild of America. Wells called the allegations ‘false and ludicrous.’ He and Bowman later declared a truce, and chalked the whole thing up to a big misunderstanding.

Both candidates drew high-level endorsements. Wells’ backers included ‘Desperate Housewives’ creator Marc Cherry; Bill Condon, who wrote and directed the movie ‘Dreamgirls’; and Robert King, one of the founding members of the Writers United group, which swept Verrone into office four years ago on a campaign to unify the guild and adopt a tougher stance in negotiations with the studios. Davis’ supporters included ‘Crash’ writer-director Paul Haggis, ‘The Shield’ creator Shawn Ryan, the late ‘Tootsie’ and ‘MASH’ writer Larry Gelbart and many of the strike captains who successfully rallied the union’s rank-and-file during last year’s walkout.-- Richard Verrier

Photo (top): John Wells. Credit: Jill Connelly / Associated Press

Photo (bottom): Elias Davis. Credit: Elias Davis