Writers plotting a freaky Friday

Major rally planned for Fox lot

More strike coverage on page 8.

Today could test the mettle of studio suits and WGA strikers.

TV execs are juggling schedules, chopping episodes from season plans and all the while trying to continue with production business as usual on those shows still going before the cameras.

Throw in a mass rally outside your gates and rumors of a Teamsters work stoppage, and there could be a run on the office aspirin supply.

"Please be advised that the Writers Guild of America will be conducting a large strike rally with between 2,000 and 4,000 participants outside the Fox studio on Friday," Fox employees were alerted in a corporate e-mail Thursday. "It is also possible Avenue of the Stars will be closed from Pico to Olympic during this time period. Rallies such as this are considered normal when a union is on strike."

Lest Fox employees take any of this personally, the memo added, "We anticipate the WGA will continue hosting rallies such as this at other studio locations in the weeks to come."

The rally is expected to start at 10 a.m. and run until 12:30 p.m., the studio said.

Fox-produced series "How I Met Your Mother" is slated to wrap production on the lot today as its supply of available scripts runs dry, and other series also continue in production on the lot, including "Journeyman," "Bones" and "Shark." Most series have later call times of noon or so on Fridays, so heavier-than-normal picketing would be especially disruptive then.

Yet if the WGA rally seemed sure to cause some anxiety on the lot, there also appeared to be signs that its planning was taxing those trying to mount the event.

Many of the guild's media alerts have been rather last minute ever since negotiations with the studios began in July. Of course, coordinating press stunts involving celebs on picket lines can be tougher than herding cats, but generally speaking an early and detailed media alert produces the broadest coverage.

By late Thursday, there was still no official media alert on the event. A guild spokesman would confirm only that a rally had been set for 10 a.m. Friday at Fox Plaza. The plaza, located near a Fox office tower at 2121 Avenue of the Stars, is situated just around the corner from the studio's main gate on busy Pico Boulevard in west Los Angeles.

Meanwhile, rumors also circulated Thursday of a possible one-day effort by the Teamsters to coordinate an unofficial show of solidarity with the WGA by refusing to cross picket lines at any studio lot.

"We have heard that they're going to do one day of totally honoring the strike," said a studio exec, who added that the rumor circulated before word of the mass labor rally at Fox.

A union source said it was possible Teamster rank and file could try to coordinate sympathy actions at some of the other lots around town, almost at any point.

"(Local 399 secretary-treasurer) Leo Reed has referred in the past to the existence of 'coconut wireless,' " the insider teased. "We have communications with our members in many ways."

The source declined to elaborate, except to explain that the phrase "coconut wireless" refers to member-to-member communications among rank and file during job actions.

Of all the unions working in Hollywood, only the Teamsters have a contract with specific language allowing some members to honor picket lines. The language allows individuals fearing for their personal safety in crossing picket lines to refuse to do so without fear of retribution from employers.

Such situations are limited to instances "where there is actual and imminent danger of bodily harm to the employee" under the Teamsters' current AMPTP contract with the AMPTP.

SAG, whose members have joined WGA picket lines in their personal time, has no such contract language. So actors wishing to avoid crossing picket lines have called in sick.

Teamsters are needed most on location shoots, mostly involving movie productions that haven't been targeted by WGA pickets. But TV shoots and other productions under way on studio soundstages citywide also are vulnerable if Teamsters orchestrate any major sympathy action.

"There's a lot of equipment on the lots that needs to be moved around," a well-placed source said. "Teamsters do all sorts of things on the lot when they're there. There are generators that need to be running. They're going out and getting furniture. If our members chose to honor pickets line, there would definitely be an impact and not just on locations."

Local 399's Reed previously suggested that he would refuse to cross any WGA picket line.

But when he added that "Teamsters don't cross picket lines," the Alliance of Motion Picture & Television Producers responded by filing an unfair labor practices complaint with the National Labor Relations Board.

So far, most Teamsters have "crossed picket lines and gone to work," the source acknowledged.

There also have been reports of some Teamsters refusing to conduct business as usual. But by and large, Teamsters have carried on their duties, even when writers went to the picket lines as early as 4 a.m.-5 a.m. before TV shows' call times.

At Fox, today's throng could make driving onto the lot a moot question for a few hours. Studios employees were urged not to lose their cool.

"If there are large gatherings of people around lot or plaza entrance gates, please remain calm and courteous as you enter the facility," the corporate e-mail advised. "We fully expect entrances to remain open. However, carpooling is highly encouraged due to potential traffic concerns."