'ER's' Wells doesn't miss bargaining table


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It was 9:35 on Monday morning outside of Warner Bros. Studios in Burbank, and members of the WGA already were picketing in force. Drivers honked their car horns in enthusiastic support. The writers, the rest of their fingers having been rendered inert by a work stoppage less than 10 hours old, held aloft their thumbs for the passing motorists.

Only in Los Angeles would drive-by solidarity feel not only altogether appropriate but inspiring.

Yet while the labor stoppage was transforming Olive Avenue into a spontaneous WGA pep rally, over on Stage 11 it was strictly business as usual. The NBC hospital drama "ER" was moving toward wrapping shooting on its landmark 300th episode, and a one-time WGA West president named John Wells was there to direct. He had a full crew to guide through their paces, as well as cast member Mekhi Phifer and guest star Peter Fonda.

This is the very same John Wells who had been rumored Sunday to be brokering a last-ditch attempt at a settlement by working the back channels and purportedly had the blessing of both sides in the negotiations. He also noted in passing that he had been advised by the DGA to finish up his directorial duties on the episode despite the strike call.

So had Wells really tossed himself into the talks over the weekend in a vain attempt to stave off the inevi¬table?

"(Sunday) afternoon, I was watching the Patriots-Colts (game) and waiting for my strike captain call like everybody else," he said Monday between shots. "John (Bowman) and Patric (Verrone) and David (Young) are doing a great job of handling this from the WGA side. I mean, I did make some calls. Everybody's been in there trying to get something happening. But those guys don't need a lot of help. They know what they're doing."

What is keeping the sides apart, in Wells' opinion? And why couldn't he swoop in to save the day?

"The Internet issues are very complicated," he said, "because there are all of these formulas that are circulating over how it's all going to work."

Wells added that he doesn't really pine for his days at the bargaining table. "Contract talks are like Kabuki theater -- there's lots of big moves and drama and stuff like this," he said with a laugh as he moved his hands stiffly like a Kabuki performer.

And what does Wells plan to do from here? Any more unofficial diplomatic efforts?

"No, I'm just calling and saying, 'Keep talking. Keep talkin'.' That's the only thing that will get this thing settled."