Fake strike debate makes light of hairy situation


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WASHINGTON -- Lawmakers, congressional staff and other "Hill rats" longing for the political humor they've been without because of the writers strike got their fix on Wednesday during a faux debate between members of the WGA and the studios.

The "debate" featured striking writers from "The Daily Show With Jon Stewart" representing the guild (and wearing sweaters and T-shirts) versus writers from "The Colbert Report" representing studio and network executives (wearing suits).

While the event with the Comedy Central writers was long on humor, it was staged to make a serious point, said WGA East president Michael Winship.

"We're here to increase congressional and public awareness of the issues," he told the standing-room-only crowd at the Rayburn House Office Building on Capitol Hill. "The issues will continue beyond the deal we eventually make, issues like intellectual property and media consolidation."

On Tuesday, the guild agreed to withdraw demands pertaining to reality TV and animation to "make absolutely clear our commitment to bringing a speedy conclusion to negotiations," Winship and WGA West head Patric Verrone said in an e-mail letter to members.

Winship told the Capitol Hill audience that the decision to drop the demands was a tactical move and doesn't mean the union plans to drop them forever.

"We realize this had become a sticking point to us throughout the talks," he said. "It was something, at this point, that we were better served by taking it off the table and focusing our efforts on organizing in those areas, rather than keeping it as a point on the bargaining table. We could do better, at this point, and in the foreseeable future, by focusing our efforts on organizing."

Rep. Jerrold Nadler, D-N.Y., the major backer of Wednesday's event, said lawmakers may decide to get more involved if the strike wears on.

"Most members of Congress prefer to let collective bargaining play out," he said. "If it doesn't, we can consider legislation on conglomerate issues, on the ownership of copyright issues."

Rep. George Miller, D-Calif., chairman of the House Education and Labor Committee, has expressed an interest in issues surrounding the strike but has yet to make a move. Rep. Diane Watson, D-Calif., said she planned a round table on the strike the first week of February.

During Wednesday's "debate," Michael Brumm, Tom Purcell, Peter Grosz from "The Colbert Report" feigned memory failure much like former Attorney General Alberto Gonzales when he "could not recall" how much money they made off the Internet.

"Daily Show" writers Tim Carvell, Jason Ross and Rob Kutner poked fun at their own neediness as they ripped a page out of the script for "Revenge of the Nerds" to explain their plight.

"Given the history of nerd revenge, this is very benign," Ross said. "We could have crashed the jocks' kegger and exploded some kind of panty bomb. We could've shown up at the pep rally and announced that it was you who trashed our frat house and then gotten everybody who'd ever been picked on to start chanting, and then the dean would've made you fix our frat house, and while they're doing that we could go live in their dorm and while they made you sleep in the gym, we could have put on Darth Vader masks and slept with their girlfriends. I mean, this is positively constructive by comparison."

The "debate" was even interrupted by "protesters," who poked fun at the group Code Pink that often interrupts official events. "Daily Show" writer Kevin Bleyer, wearing a pink shirt, was shouted down by "Colbert" writer Peter Gwinn, wearing a green one.

Both Comedy Central shows have returned to the air without their writers.