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In a bit of an irony since squabbles over Web content are at the heart of the writers strike, an Internet series might be used by a broadcast network as strike-contingency programming.
Sources said Thursday that NBC is in talks to acquire Edward Zwick and Marshall Herskovitz’s high-profile Web offering “Quarterlife” ahead of its Sunday debut on MySpace.
NBC and MySpace declined comment.
Meanwhile, it was business as usual on the Los Angeles-area picket lines and studio lots on the fourth day of the strike, with high-profile supporters including the cast of “Everybody Loves Raymond” and the Rev. Jesse Jackson, minor disruptions of series production and more layoffs.
One of the most discussed issues by showrunners on the picket lines Thursday was the breach-of-contact letters sent Wednesday by CBS Paramount Network TV to its multihyphenates. Unlike the suspension or default letters sent out by other studios, notifying writers and nonwriting producers that their pay is being suspended, CBS Par’s breach-of-contract memos featured stronger language, saying that the studio reserves the right to take action if they don’t return to work to perform their duties as producers.
“They basically told him that if he didn’t go to work yesterday, they were going to charge him with the cost of the production of his own show — millions of millions of dollars — and believe me, he was quaking with fear,” “Private Practice” showrunner Marti Noxon said Thursday morning on KPCC-FM, referring to a writer who received a breach-of-contract letter.
Despite the letters, sources indicated that CBS Par showrunners by and large didn’t go to work Thursday. Production on the CBS Par series that still are filming continued as scheduled.
ABC Studios and Universal Media Studios on Thursday joined 20th Century Fox TV in notifying assistants that they are being let go. The move affects assistants to writers and nonwriting producers who already had received suspension letters from the studios. The laid-off employees at ABC Studios reportedly are being paid through the end of this month and are getting severance packages.
Meanwhile, picketers interfered with another location shoot Thursday, this time one for NBC’s comedy “Scrubs,” which was filming in a park near their stage. The schedule was changed, and production was moved inside.
“Quarterlife,” an ensemble show about a group of twentysomethings originally developed as a pilot for ABC three years ago, is rumored to launch on NBC as soon as February if the strike continues.
As of Thursday, though, News Corp.’s MySpace was still promoting the Sunday debut of the series, set to run for 36 eight-minute episodes.
A spokeswoman for Zwick and Herskovitz said the show is proceeding with its premiere on MySpace and on quarterlife.com as scheduled.
When the series was announced in September, Herskovitz stressed that the duo were not contractually obligated to MySpace beyond the first four hours, and he expressed a desire for the show to be seen on other platforms.
Last week, he told The Hollywood Reporter that the Web could open up new channels for guild writers if there were a protracted strike (HR 11/2).
There was a mini-“Raymond” reunion outside the Paramount lot on Thursday morning as Phil Rosenthal, Ray Romano and Patricia Heaton walked the picket line.
After bringing the picketers bagels and orange juice, the “Raymond” crew joined their march outside the Melrose gate of the L.A. studio.
“I won’t cross the picket line,” said Romano, a WGA member. “I was in the writers room every day for nine years (on ‘Raymond’). … Without the writers, (co-star) Brad (Garrett) and I would have been sitting on the couch looking at our feet for 22 minutes.”
“Raymond” creator Rosenthal added that if the strike goes on long enough to force scripted TV shows into reruns, he hopes viewers “understand that it will be temporary.”
“And if people are upset, they should write to the studios and networks and ask them to do the right thing,” Rosenthal said. “It’s all about fairness, not greed. Ray and I don’t need the money, but we want (a contract that is) fair for everybody else.”
Jackson also caused a commotion with his appearance at the studio, where he walked the picket line arm in arm with WGA West president Patric Verrone.
“You’re fighting for the dignity of the American worker,” Jackson said. “You’re fighting for the American dream, and that dream is worth fighting for.”
Jackson expressed a desire to meet with the networks and studios.
“I also would ask the governor and mayor to use their offices to help convene forces,” he said. “This strike will eventually impact and hurt everybody,” with the effects trickling down even to people in non-industry jobs, he added.
Outside the Fox studio gate in Century City, striking “My Name Is Earl” writer Hunter Covington said he was looking for someone to be broke with when he came up with the idea for a “picket line for singles.”
“I’m looking for a low-maintenance female who doesn’t enjoy the finer things in life, he joked Thursday.
In another ironic twist, NBC said Thursday that “Saturday Night Live” hit season-high ratings in 18-49 last week for what could be the late-night show’s last original episode in a long, long time.
Alex Woodson reported from New York; Nellie Andreeva reported from Los Angeles. Kimberly Nordyke and the Associated Press contributed to this report.
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