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UPDATED 6:47 p.m. PT Nov. 5, 2007
Writers launched the first attack in their press offensive Monday, turning a picket line in the country’s media capital into a combination street protest, educational session and publicity gambit.
Hundreds of striking writers in New York flocked to picket lines at NBC headquarters at 30 Rock — including the star and exec producer of “30 Rock” herself.
Tina Fey was the most prominent of the chanters and sign-holders as the strike got under way, calling disingenuous the networks’ argument that they weren’t equipped to distribute digital revenue. “NBC is breaking away from iTunes,” she said, gesturing to the company’s headquarters up the street. “They know what they’re doing with new media.”
While a writer with “Late Show With David Letterman” said the show had instructed staffers not to talk to the press, informal press conferences seemed to be happening up and down the picket line, with outlets from CNN to the New York Times (via columnist David Carr) lobbing questions at writers.
Guild members like Jon Robin Baitz, the creator of ABC’s “Brothers & Sisters,” spent more than an hour alongside series star Ron Rifkin fielding questions from the media. “Our goal is to make sure people realize this is about the future of entertainment and how writers are paid for that entertainment, and not about a rich entity against a richer entity,” Baitz said.
Rifkin added that the strike “was a metaphor for the differences between media last century and media this century.”
Support among the press is critical to striking writers as they try to gain leverage and public support. After several episodes last week where late-night personalities such as Conan O’Brien and Stewart made jokes in routines supporting the strike, writers will now need to find another way to make their case to the public.
The decision to picket at 30 Rock (instead of, say, at Silvercup Studios in Queens, where the picket line moves on Tuesday) was a calculated logistical and symbolic move on the part of the WGA East. The space, on a crowded stretch of sidewalk in Manhattan, is a ground zero for the media as well as general pedestrian traffic, which served the guild’s dual purpose of igniting public support and press sympathy.
Throughout the day, groups of schoolchildren, tourists and commuters passed by to ask picketers questions and generally express solidarity. Upon being told that the strike’s outcome would determine whether new televisions shows would be able to get on the air, one child looked up with a worried expression and said simply, “Oh.”
Comedy writers and performers from New York mainstays like “Saturday Night Live” and “The Daily Show with Jon Stewart” made up the roughly 100 writers in the morning shift, a group that was able to attract attention thanks to the presence of known faces like SNL’s Seth Meyers and The Daily Show’s John Oliver.
Oliver gamely stood for a series of TV interviews, quipping that he was impressed by the guild’s ability to draw strikers, because he and his fellow writers were “pasty-faced people who didn’t usually see the light of day.”
Meyers also offered himself to the press, making comments both serious (“I don’t think anyone likes being put in (a strike) position, but on an issue like this you have to side with the writers”) and comedic. Asked what was he was working on in lieu of “SNL,” Meyers said he was drafting some new strike chants as well as a how-to book. “Maybe I’ll do both — a how to chant book.”
By the time the afternoon shift came, a fresh crop of about one hundred had made their way to the lines and were there for the media to engage with, including “Dan In Real Life” writer-director Peter Hedges, “Sex and the City” writer Liz Tuccillo and “Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason” scribe Adam Brooks.
Brooks noted that the fight over residuals was more fundamental to the business than the AMPTP was allowing. “People think residuals are just a small part of how we get paid. But writers live on them for years. There are so many good writers who were able to stay in the business because of a residuals check.”
And filmmaker Alice Yu (Sony Classics’ “Saving Face”) made a bid to paint the strike in broader social terms, saying the struggle was an attempt to preseve a middle-class of writers. “If we don’t do this, we’ll end up with 20 really rich writers and a whole lot of starving artists.”
Paul J. Gough contributed to this report.
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