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Strike a Pose

Strikeposter Those of us at Back Stage who have been reporting on the potential of a Writers Guild of America strike since last spring were not surprised when the writers officially walked out Nov. 5. Neither were most actors and other entertainment professionals.

But even we are surprised by how quickly the writers are bringing this seemingly all-powerful, billion-dollar industry to its knees—a testament to the power of creative forces behind every film and TV show. Tina Fey, Steve Carell, Eva Longoria, Nicollette Sheridan, Sally Field, David Hyde Pierce, and Jay Leno have all made appearances on the picket lines; the support of these high-profile actors, some of whom belong to the WGA and the Screen Actors Guild, has brought more attention to the writers' cause.

Perhaps most impressive were the 125 showrunners, including Silvio Horta and Marco Pennette (Ugly Betty), Marc Cherry (Desperate Housewives), Neal Baer (Law & Order: Special Victims Unit), Doug Ellin (Entourage), Carlton Cuse (Lost), and John Wells (ER), who walked off their own shows to picket Nov. 8 at Walt Disney Studios in Burbank, Calif. A number of showrunners are WGA members and some chose not to continue their nonwriting duties, essentially shutting down their lucrative series in order to support their writers. As series shutter, studios such as Sony Pictures TV (producers of 'Til Death and Rules of Engagement, among others) may put series regulars on "unpaid hiatus." Also, striking showrunners could face breach-of-contract lawsuits from studios.

Given the threats, the layoffs, dwindling auditions, and even the traffic jams at studio gates, it's hard not to resent WGA members at least a little for causing such an uproar. Laid-off production professionals—actors in addition to grips, gaffers, assistant directors, set dressers, makeup and hair artists, caterers, and assistants, to name a few—can't help but think the writers selfish for cutting off industry folks' livelihoods in a matter of days.

Nellie Andreeva, television editor for The Hollywood Reporter, pointed out that most of the country—and even most Los Angeles and New York residents—aren't inclined to be sympathetic to the writers' plight either. "[Writers] are perceived as white-collar millionaires (which is true for a fraction of them)," she wrote in a Nov. 12 article. "While grocery-store workers picket in front of supermarkets—a relatable place that people go to all the time—writers march at studio lots. Maybe writers should go to people's homes and stand in front of their TVs."

Wga_juliadreyfus Of course, WGA members would have to block more than plasma screens already filling up with reality shows and reruns in lieu of original programming. Writers would have to station strikers at every computer with Internet access and commandeer every video iPod to truly get their point across—and actors would have every reason to stand beside those writers, because whatever the WGA loses or gains from this strike will likely set a precedent that will affect SAG, the Directors Guild, and potentially even the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees and the International Brotherhood of Teamsters.

In fact, if SAG's TV/Theatrical Contract with producers had expired before the WGA's Minimum Basic Agreement did Oct. 31, actors would have probably been the ones marching off sets and chanting catchy strike slogans. The responsibility of battling for new-media residuals simply fell to the WGA first. And if the writers strike continues into the spring and summer—a bleak possibility, indeed—actors could officially join them in a combined strike if SAG does not negotiate a new TV/Theatrical contract by June 30, 2008. Perhaps SAG and the WGA can coordinate their contracts' expiration dates in the future to give both unions more immediate power on the picket lines.

Of course, it's easy to sit in a reporter's cubicle and lecture actors on how to weather a long drought of work with vigilance and grace. Journalists will still be working no matter the outcome of the WGA strike—indeed, the strike has given many of us more work than we can handle. What we as members of the media can do is continue to keep our readers informed with accurate, unbiased coverage on our website and in the weekly print edition of Back Stage, and to serve as an outlet for actors' voices in these challenging times.

We encourage you to visit BackStage.com for daily strike coverage, analyses, and links to past articles on new media and other related issues. The Hollywood Reporter also hosts a "Strike Zone" with the latest news at www.hollywoodreporter.com/strike. For SAG updates and picket-line locations, visit the "WGA Strike Information Center" at www.sag.org or call the guild's WGA Strike Information Hotline:  (877) 724-7875.

-- Back Stage staff

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