October 22, 2014

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Strike no joke for Letterman


Writers hit picket lines, drive major late-night shows into reruns

LOS ANGELES — Americans may be getting more sleep after Hollywood writers went on strike Monday and forced the nation’s late-night talk shows to start airing reruns.

NBC said the “The Tonight Show with Jay Leno” will immediately air repeats.

Still, Leno made an appearance at the Burbank studio, arriving on a motorcycle to visit strikers walking a picket line.

CBS said “The Late Show with David Letterman” will also offer repeats all week. The list of casualties included every other major late-night show.

The first strike by Hollywood writers in nearly 20 years got under way with noisy pickets on both coasts after last-minute negotiations on Sunday failed to produce a deal on payments to writers from shows offered on the Internet.

No new negotiations were scheduled, although the Writers Guild of America negotiating committee was set to meet Monday afternoon.

Nick Counter, chief negotiator for the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers, said he expected a long standoff.

“We’re hunkered down for a long one,” he said. “From our standpoint, we made every good faith effort to negotiate a deal and they went on strike. At some point, conversations will take place. But not now.”

The strike will not immediately impact production of movies or prime-time TV programs. Most studios have stockpiled dozens of movie scripts, and TV shows have enough scripts or completed shows in hand to last until early next year.

Disruptions by strikers ended filming at a Studio City cafe being used as a location for the CBS show “Cane.”

Tom Hogan, a location manager for the show, said he had hired two off-duty Los Angeles police officers in addition to five private security guards to maintain order during the shoot.

He said the filming began hours before the 20 pickets arrived and involved a script that was finished several weeks ago.

No other major problems were reported at studios or filming locations.

At the CBS lot in Studio City, about 40 people hoisted signs and applauded when picketing began.

Robert Port, a writer for the TV show “Numb3rs,” said he was as ready as possible for what could be a long walkout.

“We live in Los Angeles, your bank account can never really be ready for this,” he said.

Only about half of the pickets wore their official red strike T-shirts.

“Writers aren’t the easiest cats to corral,” said Don McGill, another writer for “Numb3rs.”

The first noisy strikers appeared outside the “Today” show set at Rockefeller Center in New York, where NBC is headquartered. The show is not directly affected by the strike because news writers are part of a different union.

A giant, inflated rat was displayed, as about 40 people shouted, “No contract, no shows!”

“They claim that the new media is still too new to structure a model for compensation,” said Jose Arroyo, a writer for “Late Night with Conan O’Brien.”

“We say give us a percentage so if they make money, we make money,” Arroyo said.

Starting TV writers earn about $70,000 per season for full-time work on a show. Veteran writers who move up to a story-editor position make at least a low six-figure salary, with a “written by” credit on an hourlong script paying an additional $30,000 plus residuals.

Diana Son, a writer for “Law & Order: Criminal Intent,” said she has three children and getting residuals was the only way she could take time off after giving birth.

“It’s an extremely volatile industry,” Son said. “There’s no job security. Residuals are an important part of our income. There’s no cushion.”

Millie Kapzen of Memphis, Tenn., who watched the New York pickets from across the street, said she was “disgusted. … I really think they should try harder to negotiate.”

Kapzen said she sells advertising for radio stations. “We’ve already had cancellations of sweeps weeks ads” by the networks, she said.

Writers have not gone on strike since 1988, when the walkout lasted 22 weeks and cost the industry more than $500 million.

The battle has broad implications for the way Hollywood does business, since whatever deal is struck by writers will likely be used as a template for talks with actors and directors, whose contracts expire next June.

Talks began in July and continued after the writers contract expired last Wednesday.

Producers said writers were not willing to compromise on major issues.

Writers said they withdrew a proposal to increase their share of revenue from the sale of DVDs that had been a stumbling block for producers.

They also said proposals by producers in the area of Internet reuse of TV episodes and films were unacceptable.

In Los Angeles, writers planned to picket 14 studio locations in four-hour shifts from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. each day until a new deal is reached.

Networks said other late-night show bound for reruns included “The Daily Show,” “Colbert Report,” “Late Late Show with Craig Ferguson,” “Late Night with Conan O’Brien,” “Jimmy Kimmel Live!” and “Last Call with Carson Daly.”

Ellen DeGeneres was a no-show Monday for filming of her daytime talk show on NBC.

“Ellen did not go to work today in support of her writers,” said Kelly Bush, her publicist.

New episodes of “The Ellen DeGeneres Show” that were filmed before the strike were set to air Monday and Tuesday. But it was unclear what might happen with the show later in the week, Bush said.

“Dancing With the Stars,” one of the country’s highest-rated prime-time shows, would air as planned on Monday, ABC said.

One key factor that could determine the damage caused by the strike is whether members of a powerful Hollywood Teamsters local honor the picket lines.

Local 399, which represents truck drivers, casting directors and location managers, had told its members that as a union, it has a legal obligation to honor its contracts with producers.

But the clause does not apply to individuals.

Steve Dayan, business agent of the local, said Monday he had heard of no problems on the picket lines involving his members.

He did not know if members were honoring the lines or crossing them.

“Our members have a choice whether they want to honor it or not,” Dayan said. “I’m sure there are people honoring and some that are crossing. It’s their individual right.”