Writers Get Support on Picket Lines
In their first full day away from their computer keyboards, the Writers Guild of America members scored several important victories. And those who are not on the picket lines -- primarily television's so-called show runners -- found themselves figuratively on the line, wrestling over whether to return to work.
The makers of "The Tonight Show With
More ominous, perhaps, was the sudden suspension of special deals that studios extend to star writers. Fox and CBS began notifying some of their top talent that they would stop paying for staff and development, a tactic other studios were considering.
Less than 12 hours after negotiations between the WGA and the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers collapsed in a
The suddenly out-of-work Leno handed out doughnuts to writers picketing NBC's
The daylong rallies, scheduled to run until further notice, appeared designed to galvanize the union's resolve -- the last WGA strike in 1988 lasted 22 weeks and cost the industry an estimated $500 million -- and rally support for the WGA's bargaining position.
"You want people to be aware of what's at stake," Carlton Cuse, a writer and executive producer on
Regular viewers of late-night television will immediately notice the disappearance of their favorite shows, but television dramas and comedies, whose scripts are written well in advance, will continue to appear as programmed for weeks if not months to come. Movies, which often take two years to produce, will arrive in the multiplex as scheduled for at least the next year.
Several issues divide the 10,000-member WGA and the producers, but the most contentious point is supplemental payments, or residuals, for TV series and movies shown on computers and new-media devices such as cellphones and video iPods. No contract talks are scheduled between the sides.
"If you look at iTunes,
Nick Counter, the president of the producers alliance, said he was disappointed that the WGA had gone on strike. "A strike is obviously painful for all involved. It costs the companies money and it costs the writers money."
If screenwriters feel they receive scant appreciation from the networks and studios, the people uttering their lines in front of the cameras were openly supportive. In apparent violation of
In front of Paramount Pictures,
"All the writers are asking for is to be fairly compensated for all this new media," she said, noting that the strike may force the cancellation of this coming week's show with
Also caught in the middle of the walkout are the TV showrunners, who serve as both writers and executive producers. As WGA members, they are obligated to stop writing; as producers, they have to ensure that the show somehow goes on.
Warren Leight, the show runner of
What's not as complicated, Leight said, is the need to strike. "They made us an offer we had to refuse," he said of the studios. "My sense is they wanted it to come to this."
In one sign of the tough tactics likely to be employed, some of the major television studios began telling star writers Monday that their compensation for staffing and development was being suspended.
Despite the gravity of the dispute, the mood on the picket line was often convivial. In New York, three members of Local 802 of the Musicians Union, outfitted with trumpet, trombone and French horn, serenaded the strikers. In Los Angeles, striking screenwriters chanted, "Network bosses, rich and rude, we don't like your attitude!"
The atmosphere "has been incredibly supportive," David Abramowitz, a strike captain and "MacGyver" screenwriter, said outside CBS' Radford studios in Studio City. "I've been in the guild for about 26 years, and I've never seen it so united."