Strike By Writers Leaves Leno, Letterman With Time On Their Hands

Monday, November 5th 2007, 10:32 am
By: News On 6

LOS ANGELES (AP) _ David Letterman has time to make another guest appearance on ``The Oprah Winfrey Show.'' Jon Stewart can try out his satiric jokes on his family before unleashing them on a national TV audience. And Jay Leno can take long motorcycle rides or tinker with his collection of antique cars.

All three talk-show hosts will have more free time after the Writers Guild of America went on strike Monday against TV networks and movie studios.

Late-night comedy was the first casualty of the walkout that left the shows with no one to fashion clever quips about the issues of the day.

The first strike by Hollywood writers in nearly 20 years got under way with noisy pickets on both coasts after last-minute negotiations Sunday failed to produce a deal on payments to writers from shows offered on the Internet.

No new negotiations were scheduled, although the writers guild negotiating committee did plan a meeting of its members.

Nick Counter, chief negotiator for the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers, said he expected a long standoff.

``We're hunkered down for a long one,'' he said. ``From our standpoint, we made every good faith effort to negotiate a deal, and they went on strike. At some point, conversations will take place. But not now.''

Writers said the next move was up to the studios.

``My hope is that it won't be too long,'' said John Bowman, chief negotiator for the writers. ``We have more reason to get together than not.''

Bowman said behind-the-scenes communication was occurring between the two sides with the hope of arranging more meetings.

The strike will not immediately impact production of movies or prime-time TV programs. Most studios have stockpiled dozens of movie scripts, and TV shows have enough scripts or completed shows in hand to last until early next year.

However, some producers were torn about trying to shoot those finished scripts.

Tim Kring, a producer and writer of the NBC hit ``Heroes,'' joined about a dozen writers on a picket line in an effort to shut down the show.

``It's very surreal,'' he said.

Kring said he had to revise the ending of the 11th episode of ``Heroes'' on the chance that it might be the last one to air this season.

``Fortunately we were able to hustle back,'' he said. ``The audience won't be left in a lurch.''

While scripted shows suffer from the strike, reality shows could flourish because they don't use union writers, despite an aggressive attempt by the writers guild to organize the staffers on the programs.

Viewers could also check out more entertainment on the Internet, ranging from user-generated fare on YouTube to professionally produced shows such as ``Quarterlife.''

One site, ``,'' is offering a $5,000 prize for the most-viewed video created by a striking writer.

Disruptions by strikers ended filming at a Studio City cafe being used as a location for the CBS show ``Cane.''

Tom Hogan, a location manager for the show, said the filming began hours before the 20 pickets arrived and involved a script that was finished several weeks ago.

No other major problems were reported at studios or filming locations.

At the CBS lot in Studio City, about 40 people hoisted signs and applauded when picketing began.

Robert Port, a writer for the TV show ``Numb3rs,'' said he was as ready as possible for what could be a long walkout.

``We live in Los Angeles, your bank account can never really be ready for this,'' he said.

The first noisy strikers appeared outside the ``Today'' show set at Rockefeller Center in New York, where NBC is headquartered. The show is not directly affected by the strike because news writers are part of a different union.

A giant, inflated rat was displayed, as about 40 people shouted, ``No contract, no shows!''

``They claim that the new media is still too new to structure a model for compensation,'' said Jose Arroyo, a writer for ``Late Night with Conan O'Brien.''

``We say give us a percentage so if they make money, we make money,'' Arroyo said.

Starting TV writers earn about $70,000 per season for full-time work on a show. Veteran writers who move up to a story-editor position make at least a low six-figure salary, with a ``written by'' credit on an hourlong script paying an additional $30,000 plus residuals.

Diana Son, a writer for ``Law & Order: Criminal Intent,'' said she has three children and getting residuals was the only way she could take time off after giving birth.

``It's an extremely volatile industry,'' Son said. ``There's no job security.''

Writers have not gone on strike since 1988, when the walkout lasted 22 weeks and cost the industry more than $500 million.

The battle has broad implications for the way Hollywood does business, since whatever deal is struck by writers will likely be used as a template for talks with actors and directors, whose contracts expire next June.

Talks began in July and continued after the writers contract expired last Wednesday.

Producers said writers were not willing to compromise on the major issues.

Writers said they withdrew a proposal to increase their share of revenue from the sale of DVDs that had been a stumbling block for producers.

They also said proposals by producers in the area of Internet reuse of TV episodes and films were unacceptable.

In Los Angeles, writers planned to picket 14 studio locations in four-hour shifts from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. each day until a new deal is reached.

Along with the late-night talk shows hosted by Letterman and Leno, networks said others bound for reruns included ``The Daily Show,'' ``Colbert Report,'' ``Late Late Show with Craig Ferguson,'' ``Late Night with Conan O'Brien,'' ``Jimmy Kimmel Live!'' and ``Last Call with Carson Daly.''

``Dancing With the Stars,'' one of the country's highest-rated prime-time shows, would air as planned on Monday, ABC said.

One key factor that could determine the damage caused by the strike is whether members of a powerful Hollywood Teamsters local honor the picket lines.

Local 399, which represents truck drivers, casting directors and location managers, had told its members that as a union, it has a legal obligation to honor its contracts with producers. But the clause does not apply to individuals.

Steve Dayan, business agent of the local, said he had heard of no problems on the picket lines involving his members.

He did not know if members were honoring the lines or crossing them.

``Our members have a choice whether they want to honor it or not,'' Dayan said. ``I'm sure there are people honoring and some that are crossing. It's their individual right.''