'Love' and olive branches on Avenue of the Writers

Big rally's cry: 'We want a deal'

It came seemingly out of nowhere after the rally was over.

"We want a deal," the few thousand writers gathered at Fox Plaza chanted spontaneously for several minutes, their words echoing off the skyscrapers in Century City.

It was a powerful message of what was on writers' minds five days into their strike. More than 4,000 of them — joined by such actors as Jeff Garlin, Steven Weber and Sharon Lawrence as well as talent agents and managers — gathered Friday in front of the Fox building on Avenue of the Stars, closing down the street between Pico and Santa Monica boulevards.

Several speakers at the rally — the biggest in WGA history — offered an olive branch to the Alliance of Motion Picture & Television Producers. The sides broke off their negotiations after a dramatic fallout on the eve of the strike the previous weekend and have not set up new talks since.

"There comes a time in every broken relationship for one side to step up and be the bigger man," WGA chief negotiator John Bowman said. "Let us be the bigger man. I love you, AMPTP. Come back to the table, baby. We can make this work."

WGA West executive director David Young called the strike "a watershed moment" for Hollywood.

"I want to tell you on Day 5 — we're winning the strike," he said. "But our goal is to negotiate."

SAG president Alan Rosenberg was the most gung-ho about the work stoppage.

"Fair play doesn't pertain in bargaining. What matters there is leverage. Here is the leverage," he said, pointing to the crowd. "Our leverage is that we're the product."

The main issues in the labor dispute between writers and studios are residuals from DVDs and royalties from the Internet.

"We took a bad deal for cable 25 years ago. We took a horrible deal for VHS 20 years ago," Rosenberg said. "We won't be fooled again."

His eloquent speech and passionate delivery resonated with writers in the crowd.

"I want him to do my pitches," one scribe said.

"Family Guy" creator/executive producer Seth MacFarlane evoked the central character from the animated series, which he voices.

"If you stick it out for just a little longer, victory will be ours," he said as Stewie. He urged all showrunners who can afford it to pay their laid-off assistants out of their own pockets.

The rally concluded with a brief surprise appearance by veteran TV producer Norman Lear.

"I was here when we struck against the Pharaoh," he said to big laughs.

Speakers at the rally also included WGAW president Patric Verrone and the Rev. Jesse Jackson.

As the strike continues with no end in sight, the writers and producers in the crowd had mixed emotions.

"There is a lot of enthusiasm and energy here," director-producer Peter Horton said. "But underneath it all, there is a real sorrow. No one wants to be here, including me."

"Lost" co-showrunner Carlton Cuse, who rode his bicycle to the rally, was optimistic that there could be a resolution soon.

"We started making progress on Sunday," he said. "My hope is that we get back to the table and keep moving forward."

The rally, which wrapped by 11:30 a.m., didn't affect work on the Fox lot. Several Fox staffers waved and gave strikers the thumbs up as they walked by the studio complex on their way to and from the rally.

"I just canceled my lunch rather than try to get off the lot, and those who have people coming in are telling them to allow themselves more time than usual to get onto the lot," one Fox exec said. "But other than that, it's business as usual."

Carl DiOrio contributed to this report.