Scene 1: Enter writers

Long hours ahead as series restart

After picketing outside the major studios for the past three months, TV writers went back inside Wednesday, trying to pick up where they'd left off before the strike.

"It is so weird to see food in the kitchen and writers in the kitchen," said an employee at Sunset Gower, poking her head into the writers room of CBS' "NCIS."

The writing team of CBS' procedural drama was back, led by executive producer/ writing showrunner Shane Brennan, who was running on four hours of sleep. An Australian on a work visa, he wasn't allowed to stay in the U.S. during the strike, so he flew in Tuesday morning and went straight to work.

"It is strange to be back," Brennan said. "It feels like coming back from a hiatus and starting a new season, but we have to hit the ground running as we don't have the luxury of easing into a season."

Series including "NCIS" and "CSI: NY" have been asked to produce seven new episodes this spring.

That means writers working 12-13 hours a day, seven days a week, and casts and crews probably switching to six-day work weeks and long hours to churn out the number of episodes requested by the networks.

The "NCIS" writers spent Wednesday mapping out the seven-episode arc and looking for ways to condense the originally planned story lines. Scribes probably will double up, working in pairs on each script to get it done quicker. But working on such intense schedule won't affect the quality of the show, Brennan said.

"We just have to work harder and spend more," he said. "The cost of all shows is going to go up."

In addition to having to amortize costs for the season over fewer episodes because of the strike, there will be a lot of additional expenses for the new segments, mostly overtime.

Over at CBS Radford, a slimmer Anthony Zuiker (he lost 18 pounds during the strike) joined the writers of his "CSI: NY," who were using the enthusiasm over ending the strike to tackle the prospect of producing seven new episodes.

"We're jumping in while we still have the energy and the frame of mind," showrunner Pam Veasey said.

Besides spending time with a personal trainer and his family, Zuiker spent a lot of time during the strike contemplating how to incorporate the Internet and other digital platforms into TV series, the very issue that was at the heart of the labor dispute between writers and the studios.

"What we do now is take TV storytelling and transfer it directly to another platform, which doesn't work," he said. "What we have to do is develop content designed for a specific platform where it can evolve," like the presence of "CSI: NY" in Second Life.

While they had seen each other on and off at the picket lines, returning writers also spent time catching up Wednesday.

Their extracurricular activities during the strike ranged from installing plasma TVs (Steven D. Binder of "NCIS") and hosting a Japanese family ("CSI: NY's" Wendy Battles), to spending time with their 11-year-old daughter (Nicolas Falacci and Cheryl Heuton of "Numbers") and stumping for Democratic presidential candidates. Veasey and "CSI: NY's" Samantha Humphrey worked on Sen. Hillary Clinton's campaign, while Carter Bays, co-creator and exec producer of CBS' "How I Met Your Mother," co-wrote and recorded a two-minute novelty tune entitled "I'm an Obama Baby" that's been piling up the views on YouTube.

"I did it with my band the Solids and some friends," Bays said. "It was a lot of fun."

For "Bones" exec producer/showrunner Hart Hanson, the strike arrived at what would become a crucial and enormously difficult time for him personally. His mother had taken ill "literally the first day the strike was called" and died just before Christmas, he said.

"She suddenly was diagnosed with a brain tumor after having already contracted lung cancer," Hanson said. "It was horrible and still feels surreal. On the other hand, the fact I didn't have to be concerned with my show meant I was able to be a good son for my mom during her last weeks and a good brother for my four siblings — I'm the eldest — without feeling guilty about abandoning the series."

For "Medium" creator/exec producer Glenn Gordon Caron, the return to work felt like deja vu. He was cranking out episodes of his classic series "Moonlighting" when the 1988 WGA strike unfolded.

"That one was completely different," Caron said. "For one thing, this one was far nastier, to my mind. But the biggest disparity between the two, I think, was the whole existence of the Internet. Back in '88, we were still in the era when you'd hear the newspaper slap your driveway at 6:30 in the morning and you'd run out to read about what was going on."

Another difference was the stance taken by the writers guild throughout the walkout.

"I think the past perception of the guild was it wasn't terribly aggressive," Caron said. "But this time, some amazing theater was created during these three long months, and in almost every case it was orchestrated by the WGA. And that's no small feat."
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