Hollywood Strike Turns Punch Lines to Picket Lines

Jay Leno brought doughnuts to show his support for scribes outside NBC Studios. The writers' strike has forced late-night shows such as Leno's into reruns, the first impact of the stoppage.
Jay Leno brought doughnuts to show his support for scribes outside NBC Studios. The writers' strike has forced late-night shows such as Leno's into reruns, the first impact of the stoppage. (By Al Seib -- The Los Angeles Times)
By William Booth and Lisa de Moraes
Washington Post Staff Writers
Tuesday, November 6, 2007

LOS ANGELES, Nov. 5 -- Thousands of writers closed their laptops Monday to march on picket lines in Hollywood and New York, vowing not to pen another joke or script until the film and TV industry offer payment for shows available over the Internet.

The first casualties of the stoppage by the 12,000 members of the Writers Guild of America are the late-night talk shows. NBC's Jay Leno and Conan O'Brien, CBS's David Letterman and Craig Ferguson and ABC's Jimmy Kimmel decided to air reruns, as did Comedy Central's "The Daily Show With Jon Stewart" and "The Colbert Report."

Late-night junkies of the celebrity interview and top-10 lists, the political lampoon and fake news might quickly feel the pangs of withdrawal, because those shows are heavily reliant on writers. The last strike by writers, in 1988, lasted about five months and reduced Johnny Carson to looking at Ed McMahon's snapshots.

At the NBC studio in Burbank, Leno showed up at the picket line aboard his Harley-Davidson motorcycle to deliver a box of doughnuts to the striking writers. After making the obligatory joke about doughy scribblers and their love of pastry products, Leno told reporters: "I've been working with these people for 20 years. Without them, I'm not funny. I'm a dead man without them."

At the gates of Fox Studios, James L. Brooks, executive producer of "The Simpsons," marched carrying a red-and-black placard that read "ON STRIKE." "I hope it's not a long one," Brooks said of the stoppage. "A long strike could mean permanent injuries. It could hurt a lot of people and it could hurt the business."

Reality and competition shows, such as ABC's highly rated "Dancing With the Stars," will not be directly affected by the strike, nor will news programs and sports. Eight of the 10 top-rated shows on prime time are penned by guild writers, however, so any lengthy strike will hurt the bottom lines of the media companies.

"If this goes on, ratings will go down and advertisers will ask where the audiences have gone," said Tom Hertz, a writer, show runner and creator of the CBS sitcom "Rules of Engagement."

Hertz, like many of the writers interviewed Monday, was feeling righteous and ready to fight for his residuals. "I love writing TV shows, but I'm 111 percent behind the strike. If I have to sell my house and move into a small apartment, I'll do it."

In Los Angeles, writers took their protests to sidewalks in front of 15 film and television studios in town as they chanted slogans and urged motorists to honk their horns. Union officials hailed the first day turnout as a strong show of unity and will.

"It's like herding cats, getting writers together and organized. But this has galvanized us," said Steve Skrovan, a longtime writer for "Everybody Loves Raymond" who now works on the Fox show " 'Til Death." Skrovan was serving as a strike captain on the Sony lot where his show is shot.

In New York, the unionized scribes waved signs at NBC headquarters at 30 Rockefeller Plaza. Among them was Tina Fey, a star and creator of NBC's "30 Rock."

Like Brooks, Fey is what Hollywood calls a "hyphenate," such as a writer-producer, who is an amalgam of both labor and management. Fey explained that she would continue to act in and produce "30 Rock," but would do no writing or rewriting of scripts.


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