Talent-Studded Picket Line Set Up at Rockefeller Plaza

(Strike Photos)

New York – John Oliver from Comedy Central’s The Daily Show with Jon Stewart and Amy Poehler of NBC’s Saturday Night Live were among the picketers at Rockefeller Plaza Monday, the first day of the TV writers’ strike.

Around lunchtime, there were roughly 150 to 200 members of the Writers Guild of America East manning the picket lines, carrying signs and handing out leaflets about their battle with TV and film producers and studios.

“It’s sad,” said Oliver, a Daily Show correspondent. “We want to work. No one wants to be on strike. If Bush announces emergency powers in Pakistan, we want to be writing about it. So, it’s very sad. I hope for a whole multitude of reasons that this does not last long.”

Writers for both The Daily Show and Comedy Central’s The Colbert Report were represented on the picket line. Comedy Central plans to repeat last week’s episodes of both shows this week because of the strike.  

The writers and producers have been deadlocked over the issue of compensation for content that’s used on new-media platforms, as well as the issue of residuals for DVD sales.

Poehler said that WGA wants to “to make sure we are fairly represented in all of this new-media business, which is real and making a lot of money. It is very unclear if somehow writers are going to be fairly represented.”

Added Oliver, “It’s much, much safer to stop a dangerous precedent being set now.”

He noted that video clips from The Daily Show are now all available on a Web site, www.thedailyshow.com, that has advertising.

“All our clips are taken off of YouTube, absolutely not at our instigation,” Oliver said. “The people who made the show would love as many people as possible to see it. So instead, this Web site is set up … They float the commercials in there, flash it up, so clearly revenue is being made there … but it’s not filtering down to the writers.”

Comedy Central declined to comment Monday.

Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) also said Monday that he supports the WGA. “I stand with the writers. The Guild’s demand is a test of whether corporate media corporations are going to give writers a fair share of the wealth their work creates or continue concentrating profits in the hands of their executives,” Obama said in a prepared statement. “I urge the producers to work with the writers so that everyone can get back to work.”

In California, the WGA West Monday was picketing at roughly a dozen studios and media-company headquarters, such as CBS in Television City, Culver Studios, Disney Studios, Fox Studios, Hollywood Center Studios, NBC in Burbank, Prospect Studios, Paramount Studios, Raleigh Studios Manhattan Beach, Sony Pictures Studios, Sunset Gower Studios, Universal Studios and Warner Bros.

The WGA negotiating committee was slated to have a teleconferenced meeting 3 p.m. ET Monday to discuss their next steps, according Michael Winship, president of the WGA East.

Members of the WGA East struck shortly after midnight Monday, while their counterparts in Los Angeles starting their job action ad midnight local time.

The union struck as last-minute negotiations Sunday with the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers broke down. The WGA’s contract with the producers actually expired Nov. 1.

The WGA picketers in Manhattan, outside of NBC’s offices and studios, were scheduled to be on the picket lines from 9 a.m. until 5 p.m. Monday.

Tina Fey of NBC’s 30 Rock and Seth Meyers of Saturday Night Live were also among those on the picket line Monday in New York. Also present were writer-producer Jon Robin Baitz, of ABC’s Brothers & Sisters, and playwright John Patrick Shanley.

Actor Ron Rifkin, who is part of the cast of Brothers & Sisters, as well as comedian-actor John Leguziamo, were also present at the demonstration in Manhattan in support.

“It’s going very well,” Winship said at Rockefeller Plaza. “We got a really nice turnout. People are coming and going, but we have a couple of shifts. We’ve had a couple of hundred.”

He said that the public seemed to be supportive.

“The tour buses go by, and people cheer,” he said. “People seem to be in solidarity.”

As for the strike, Winship said, “I’m hoping it will be short. There’s a deal to be made fairly easily, if everybody will just get back to the table and bargain seriously.”

The AMPTP issued a statement Sunday that charged the WGA with taking an “irresponsible action” by striking.

 “Notwithstanding the fact that negotiations were ongoing, the WGA decided to start their strike in New York,” AMPTP President Nick Counter. “We made an attempt at meeting them in a number of their key areas including Internet streaming and jurisdiction in new media. Ultimately, the guild was unwilling to compromise on most of their major demands.”

Early Monday morning, the WGA issued its own statement and said it had “completely withdrew its DVD proposal, which the companies said was a stumbling block.” The writers had been asking that residuals on DVDs be doubled.

Nonetheless, according to the WGA, the AMPTP was still insisting that the guild will have no jurisdiction for most of new media writing; that the producers offered no economic proposal for the part of new-media writing where the they do propose to give coverage; offered Internet downloads at the DVD rate; proposed no residuals for streaming video of theatrical product; set forth a “promotional” proposal that allows producers to reuse even complete movies or TV shows on any platform with no residuals; and proposed a “window” of free reuse on the Internet “that makes a mockery of any residual.”

The producers claim it is far too early to set forth firm formulas for writers to reap residuals and revenue from new-media usage, such as streaming video on the Internet.