WGA takes it to the Street

Actors make the scene in Hollywood

East Coast writers took their pickets and message to Wall Street on Tuesday, while West Coast scribes received a show of support from some high-profile sympathizers from SAG as the strike completed its ninth day.

Meanwhile, California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger was working behind the scenes with both sides, and Nick Counter, president of the Alliance of Motion Picture & Television Producers, accused WGA officials of using intimidation to control dissident members who wish to return to work.

A spokesman for Schwarzenegger said the governor was placing phone calls to unspecified studio execs who had expressed an interest in his help with the strike.

"Both the studio side and the writers side asked to talk to the governor," press secretary Aaron McLear said. "So he is talking to both sides individually to get a sense of what the issues are and what if anything he can do to be helpful."

On Monday, Schwarzenegger met with some guild officials, but his Tuesday schedule allowed only phone contact for now with the studio execs, McLear said.

Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa also has met with guild officials and talked to studio execs over the phone (HR 11/5).

Their efforts are in line with those by several political and industry figures who have expressed interest in helping to restart contract talks between the WGA and the AMPTP. Their negotiations over a new film and TV contract broke down Nov. 4, and the guild began picketing the next day.

In Los Angeles, it was "bring your star to the picket line" day. Outside several entrances to Universal Studios, familiar faces from TV and film walked the eight-block picket line with the writers. SAG said as many as 500 of its members were there to show their support.

Many actors said they were concerned because the WGA negotiations could set a precedent for their contract, which expires in June.

"We've become a close family with all our writers, especially Marc (Cherry)," "Desperate Housewives" star James Denton said. "We're all in the same boat. We're all fighting the same battle."

His co-star, Nicollette Sheridan, had stronger words for the studios and networks.

"I think the companies are clinging to the past," she said. "No matter who is striking, they have to do the fair and right thing, and they are not willing to listen or negotiate."

Actress Camryn Manheim said the solidarity between the two guilds is of the utmost importance.

"It's not possible to have TV and movies without the writers," she said. "Without writers, we're just a bunch of klutzes."

Many of the SAG members pushed the same message: While there are some writers who do very well, most are middle class and often live paycheck to paycheck.

"Without a Trace" star Enrique Murciano said he's also feeling the impact as the show heads into one more episode before production stops.

"We had a camera guy show up with his two kids because he can't afford a nanny anymore and his wife died a couple years ago," Murciano said. "It's serious. I have craftsmen offering services, asking, 'Do you need any work done around your house?' "

Valerie Harper, a member of SAG's national board of directors, said the WGA members' battles are in lock step with those of other unions such as the Service Employees International Union or Communication Workers of America.

"A lot of this is going on in our country — doing business cheaper and decimating the middle class," Harper said. "In the future, this strike will be a historic moment for unions."

"It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia" creators and actors Charlie Day and Rob McElhenney said they were lucky enough to wrap up production on the show the Friday before the strike.

"I had a friend ask me, 'I noticed your show is in the top 20 on iTunes — how much do you get?' " Day said. "The answer is zero."

More than 100 Manhattan picketers brought the battle to Wall Street, where they said media moguls were bragging about their fiscal health while claiming poverty at the bargaining table.

"We have to take it to the heart" of the financial center, WGAE president Michael Winship said. "It's the only way we're going to win."

Taking the protest to the site wasn't easy, though. Post-Sept. 11 security concerns made it impossible for the union to get a site closer to the New York Stock Exchange. The picketers' message was received coolly by some of the Financial District workers, but guild members passed out all of their leaflets.

Meanwhile, Ellen DeGeneres on Tuesday canceled her plans to tape her syndicated daytime talk show, "The Ellen DeGeneres Show," in New York next week as previously planned. DeGeneres will instead tape the show out of her Burbank-based studio.

The news comes after an attack by the WGA East on Friday that accused her of violating strike rules and said she was unwelcome in New York. The letter by WGAE prompted a response by both AFTRA and show producer Telepictures, who defended the performer's decision to go back to work.

Also Tuesday, a number of WGAE members were busy creating videos that mixed humor and advocacy — taking a page from the playbook of the West Coast writers, most notably "The Office" staff, which released a video through United Hollywood early in the strike.

Winship said that a meeting Monday was held with a number of comedy show writers, who agreed to work on videos that would be posted on the WGAE site and elsewhere on the Web arguing their case.

There were at least two groups of writers doing videos at Battery Park, and union officials said more were shooting all over Manhattan.

One of those groups was the writing staff of "The Daily Show With Jon Stewart." They spent the morning creating a mock video newscast with the picket line as a backdrop.

Steve Bodow, head writer for "The Daily Show," said the "Office" video was a partial inspiration, though the writers had been thinking of doing something and have spent parts of several days writing it. He said that the video, which will be released this week, will run somewhere around two minutes. It won't show any branding of "The Daily Show" nor will advertise itself as such.

"It's the first thing that we say in the piece — that this is obviously not 'The Daily Show,' " Bodow said.

He said that the writers weren't planning on making it a regular occurrence and hoped that the strike would be short and that they would all be back to work on their show soon.

"We have no plans to be going to series with it," Bodow joked.

Separately on Tuesday, Counter criticized a move by the WGA to ferret out strikebreakers among its ranks.

"The WGA is using fear and intimidation to control its membership," he said. "Asking members to inform on each other and creating a blacklist of those who question the tactics of the WGA leadership is as unacceptable today as it was when the WGA opposed these tactics in the 1950s."

The statement comes amid speculation some writers might declare "financial core" status in order to keep working through the strike. Under fi-core, members renounce their membership but continue paying limited dues.

Also, a WGA West strike rules compliance committee has been seeking members' help in identifying instances of strikebreaking by members.

Leslie Simmons reported from Los Angeles; Paul J. Gough reported from New York. Carl DiOrio in Los Angeles contributed to this report.
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