WGA president adjusts to his post-strike life


Patric Verrone was heading into a building at the Harvard Business School last week for a panel gig when a voice and footsteps suddenly got louder behind him.

"I just needed to meet you," said a student, breathless as he caught up to Verrone. "My fiancee told me — she's a writer on 'Guiding Light' — she told me I had to shake your hand. You're her hero." If the WGA West president was surprised, he kept a relaxed expression, shaking the student's hand and engaging him in a discussion about his fiancee's career and the couple's relationship.

Such is the labor leader's life, which since the strike ended has been marked by a strange mix of executive suspicion and rock-star fame. The mild-mannered and wry 48-year-old, who with his black hair brushed flat against his head can sometimes look like a boy at his confirmation, is accosted on the street by fans. They want to talk about the strike and the digital future, dish on producers and, sometimes, just bask in his presence.

Whether you believe the adoration is warranted probably depends on how you felt about the resolution of the WGA strike. But the encounters belie a larger question.

Just what does Verrone do these days? Media, he said. Enforcement of the contract. And contemplate his next step. "I don't know if I'm going to write a book or go on a speaking tour," he said in an interview. "And it's up to me to go back to making a living."

Having finished a set of DVD movies for his Fox hit "Futurama," the comedy writer (he also was behind the Jon Lovitz cult hit "The Critic") is working on developing online content, in a move that might be motivated by philosophy as well as practicality.

After a set of intense negotiations with the country's biggest moguls, continuing to write for the big networks in at least the immediate future might be tricky.

But he's also, he said, living out the ideals of the strike. "I don't think I'm compromised by being guild president, any more than a 48-year-old comedy writer that it's difficult to find work in traditional media," he said. "But I feel very strongly the creative control that writers do this to achieve doesn't exist in traditional media, which is otherwise a bastion of executive notes and focus groups."

Verrone tempers his new-media efforts with realism. "There's not a lot of money," he said last week, and there's something surreal about the man who helped land writers their new-media deals express concerns about the digital future. "It's easy to create a one-time phenomenon," he said last week of one-offs like ObamaGirl. "The trick is how to get people coming back."

He compares the current new-media climate to the early days of Fox, for which he worked, where "part of the strategy is to bring in creators and let them do more of what they want."

Beginning his professional life as a lawyer in Florida, Verrone got his Hollywood start when some friends from the Harvard Lampoon suggested he move to Los Angeles to write for Fox's new late-night show with Joan Rivers. He told his boss that he hoped to take a three-month leave — a leave, he likes to joke, he's still technically on.

As the SAG issues heat up, Verrone said he's going to keep in close contact with that guild. "It's important that the industry knows that we're supporting the Screen Actors Guild, not only to get what we didn't get but to improve on the things we came close on and needed to get done maybe too quickly," he said, rattling off the number of days until the new WGA contract is up.

But come on, Patric, surely there are some nonlabor activities you can indulge in? Maybe running for office? "I spend a lot of time working on cartoons and puppets," he said. "So politics seems like the next phase."