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With savings dwindling, TV and film writers picket in NYC

January 11, 2008

From the Associated Press:

 

As the walkout stretched into its 10th week, hundreds gathered in front of the offices of Viacom Inc., including some writers who have seen their shows return to the air without them. One protester's sign urged the media conglomerate, which owns Comedy Central, to "Do the Write Thing."

Jay Katsir, a 26-year-old writer for "The Colbert Report," would not talk about the show, which resumed broadcasting an unscripted version on Monday, saying only: "We need to keep our focus on production companies and getting everybody back at work."

The strikers made themselves felt this week, with Stephen Colbert and Jon Stewart back on the air without the aid of scripts or TelePrompTers. On Monday, organizers facing the prospect of a Golden Globes ceremony without any celebrities downgraded the event to a press conference.

Despite weeks with income coming only from the occasional residual check or odd job, those walking the line remained resolute.

"When you walked down the picket line in '88, there was an enormous amount of dissension. Here, there is none," said Terry Curtis Fox, a TV and film writer who's been in the business long enough to have worked on the 1980s-era "Hill Street Blues."

The guild went on strike Nov. 5, in part over writers' shares of potential profits from programming on the Internet and other new media. The 1988 walkout lasted five months.

Asked about rising speculation that the year's entire award season could be in jeopardy, Fox scoffed at the idea that the Oscars were a precious American institution that should be protected by a union waiver.

"The Oscars are the biggest marketing campaign in the history of the world," he said. "They sell movies. They sell the product of the people we're striking against."

Organizers insist the Academy Awards ceremony will go on, but with the Screen Actors Guild supporting the writers, it seems unlikely that celebrities would attend without an agreement.

Matthew Coyle, an actor who joined the picket line in solidarity on Wednesday, said that SAG had good reason to get involved.

"Our contract's coming up ... so we're going to be dealing with these exact same issues," he said. "It's not just a writers' issue."

Also joining the picket line were Tina Fey of "30 Rock" and "Saturday Night Live" performers Amy Poehler, Seth Meyers and Andy Samberg.

Steve Higgins, a writer and producer on "Saturday Night Live," said he hoped the union would make an exception for the Academy Awards.

"I think the Oscars are bigger than any strike or dispute that people have," said Higgins, of Montclair, N.J.

Mona Mangan, executive director of the Writers Guild of America, East, said: "It's the studios that have to save the Oscars."

The union says it is eager to return to the negotiating table.

The Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers, in a statement, blamed the union for the impasse, saying its demands were unreasonable and "have nothing to do with new media."

A message left for a Viacom spokesman was not immediately returned on Wednesday.

In California, Warner Bros. Entertainment sent a letter to some employees warning they could be laid off as a result of the strike.

"We regret the impact this will have on our employees, and we hope to bring them back to work once the WGA strike ends," the company said Wednesday in a statement.

Meanwhile, getting by is getting tougher for some of the writers, especially those just starting out.

"We can only go another few months" before running out of money, said 27-year-old Mike Weiss, who had moved to Los Angeles for a job as a writer for "Cashmere Mafia" just five months before the strike put his life on hold. Now back in New York, he's making payments on his car in Los Angeles _ and waiting.

Katsir, the "Colbert" writer, said he was starting to feel the financial pressure of not having a job.

With a glance at a nearby restaurant, and offering no hint of whether he was joking, he added: "I might look into Bubba Gump Shrimp."

 

 

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