Magazine Feature / People

Writers’ strike is a grim development for a fairy-tale career

Jim Gray was living a dream and writing a fairy tale. Now he’s hoping for a happy ending.

Gray, (BA communication and psychology ’03), struggled for three years to land a Hollywood writing job before finally snapping up an opportunity last summer and churning out full scripts on a tight deadline for television writer Bryan Fuller and a new show he was working on. The effort landed Gray his dream job: a full-time writing position on a big-budget, primetime, network show.

The show, Pushing Daisies, has been a critical darling since its debut in October. It’s the story of a kind-hearted pie maker who can bring back the dead as he works with a hard-boiled detective to solve crimes. It’s filmed in a surreal, brightly colored style with quirky storylines. 

Gray says everything was coming up roses for Daisies at first. He was working up to 90 hours a week, seven days and loving every minute of it. Until … “The Strike.” 

The Writers Guild of America, West went on strike this fall in a dispute over payments for digital downloads and other new methods of selling TV shows and movies. And just like that, Gray was out of a job.

“Everybody’s pretty down in the dumps about this,” Gray says. “There’s definitely not a lot of joy this holiday season.”

Shows have halted production. Everyone from the stars to the caterers and janitors is out of work. 

But Gray, 26, keeps smiling. He says he reminds himself he’s one of the few who has shown he can make a living as a writer in Hollywood, and the high praise Daisies has garnered will open the door to his next writing gig, even if a protracted strike kills the show after just one year.

He still has the same apartment he rented when he was struggling, so rent’s not killing him. And his girlfriend, Denver native Elizabeth Hershberger, is still working as a set designer and artist for the television show October Road while it continues production on stockpiled scripts. 

And since he didn’t have time in his brief stint to join the Guild, Gray isn’t required to walk a picket line. With the spare time, he says he’s continued writing screenplays, pilots for new TV shows he’s creating and other projects. 

“I can’t do any work for Daisies,” he says. “But I keep the muscle flexed. I keep writing and working on other things.”

Rumors are flying in Hollywood. Gray says he’s heard the strike could last until June, or it could be over this month. If it ends anytime soon, Gray says he’s already been warned not to head back to Denver to visit family. Writers will be pressed into round-the-clock work schedules the minute a new contract is signed.

In the meantime, Gray says he just appreciates what he’s accomplished and the fun he’s had working on Pushing Daisies.

“This is just the best job in the world,” he says. “I am the luckiest guy in Hollywood.”

Pushing Daisies airs Wednesdays on ABC. To read about Jim Gray’s debut as a writer on Pushing Daisies, visit the DU Today archives.

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