Sides still talking, WGA still walking



Day Two of a planned three-day stretch of double-secret contract talks between the WGA and studio reps seemed to go well enough Tuesday, with parties yakking all day and agreeing to do it again in the morning.

But today will be the real test of whether the parties are determined to find a way to end the 31/2-week writers strike. For one thing, industryites will watching to see whether the guild and the Alliance of Motion Picture & Television Producers schedule any further negotiating sessions.

Today's session is expected to start at 10 a.m., again at an undisclosed location. The parties' recently instituted media blackout has prevented many details of the week's progress to date from getting out, but it appeared there was no major new bombshell among any of the contract proposals discussed Tuesday.

The latest session marked the 19th day of talks since the WGA and AMPTP launched their film and TV contract negotiations on July 16. The writers went on strike Nov. 5, five days after the expiration of their three-year pact and one day after the last bargaining session before this week.

Picketing continued at sites throughout Los Angeles on Tuesday. In New York, Democratic presidential candidate John Edwards was among politicians and others showing up to support a "solidarity rally" that the WGAE staged in Washington Square Park.

Guild organizers estimated the rally crowd at almost 1,000, with U.S. Reps. Anthony Weiner and Jerry Nadler and Manhattan borough president Scott Stringer among those on hand. SAG members Tim Robbins, Edie Falco, Danny Glover, Joe Pantoliano and other union actors also voiced support for the WGA.

Edwards, who previously appeared at a WGA picket line in Los Angeles, expressed his support for the WGA's strike efforts. "We're in this thing together," he told the rally crowd. "The truth is it's crucial for the future of America."

Edwards is among political figures recently bowing out of scheduled talk show appearances in support of the strike. Like the other Democratic presidential front-runners, Edwards has vowed to boycott a candidates debate on Dec. 10 if a potential strike by CBS newswriters goes forward.

"I'm proud of all your brothers and sisters being with you in this absolutely important cause, because what we have to do together is … show strength," Edwards said. "We have to show that working people in this country actually deserve a chance. We have to show that we're going to have economic fairness and economic justice in America again."

Robbins told the crowd the WGA's fight is essentially a middle-class struggle. "This is not a strike of millionaire writers," he said. "This is a strike of middle-class writers trying to make this month's rent."

WGAE spokeswoman Sherry Goldman said the turnout showed that the strike is a national issue that brings together people bonded by labor. "It's not our fight," she said. "It's everybody's fight."

Back in Los Angeles, where actors and others have helped stage almost daily photo opportunities for the trailing press, Tuesday's activities included perhaps the zaniest of any such stunts to date.

Surrounded by picketers bearing signs inscribed with messages like "We Eat Scabs," a group of horror writers chanted "Out, demons, out!" as they performed an "exorcism" outside the Warner Bros. studio gates in Burbank. Some dressed in clerical garb.

Separately Tuesday, though the WGA didn't put out any statement on the contract talks, the guild did address the recent news that Carson Daly plans to resume the late-night talk show duties he had suspended in support of the strike (HR 11/27).

"We're disappointed at Carson Daly's decision to return to work," the WGAW said. "Mr. Daly is not a writer and not a member of the WGA, unlike other late-night hosts Jay Leno, David Letterman, Conan O'Brien, Craig Ferguson and Jimmy Kimmel, who have all resisted network pressure and honored our writers' picket lines.

"We're especially appalled at Mr. Daly's call for non-guild writers to provide him with jokes. We hope he'll change his mind and follow the lead of the other late-night hosts."

The latter criticism referred to a personal e-mail from Daly to friends and family that was leaked online Tuesday.

NBC declined comment on the matter, citing the current agreement between the AMPTP and the WGA for a press blackout period.

Carl DiOrio reported from Los Angeles and Diana Britton reported from New York. Borys Kit and Kimberly Nordyke in Los Angeles contributed to this report.