Writers' Strike Could Harm Support Businesses

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Writers for network television and the big screen are on strike after last-ditch talks, called by a federal mediator, failed. There are about 12,000 members of the Writers Guild of America, but a prolonged strike will be harmful to many more, including set designers, carpenters, drivers, dog groomers, caterers, hotels and more.

RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

The union representing film and TV writers went on strike just after midnight tonight. The writers say they will picket studios and production sites on both coasts later today. The impact of the strike will be felt first on talk shows like "David Letterman" and "Jay Leno," which will go immediately into reruns.

And down the line, the economic impact could be much wider, as NPR's Wendy Kaufman reports.

WENDY KAUFMAN: Every movie or TV show means work for hundreds of people, among them writers, producers, editors, set designers and carpenters. Add in drivers who shuttle people and equipment, the local dry cleaner, dog groomer, catering firms, talent agencies and hotels, and you come up with roughly half a million jobs tied to Southern California's entertainment industry.

If the strike is short, the impact on them won't be great. But as Jonathan Taplin of the University of Southern California's Annenberg School explains, if it goes on for months, as it did in 1988, that's another matter.

Professor JONATHAN TAPLIN (Annenberg School for Communication, University of Southern California): If you're an electrician and you make pretty good money but you've got a second house, you may want to get rid of that second house. If you're a restaurant like The Grill in Beverly Hills, whose whole business is based around entertainment people are having lunch with writers and talking about new deals, that's going to slow down.

KAUFMAN: And the list goes on and on. On a more global level, the entertainment industry is one of America's leading export industries, bringing in tens of billions of dollars in annual revenue - tens of billions more come from the domestic market. And if the strike is a long one, much of that revenue could be in jeopardy.

Wendy Kaufman, NPR News.

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Film and TV Writers Go on Strike

Film and TV writers resolved to put down their pens and take up picket signs after last-ditch talks failed to avert a strike.

The first picket lines were set to appear Monday morning at Rockefeller Center in New York, where NBC is headquartered.

In Los Angeles, writers were planning 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.

The contract between the 12,000-member Writers Guild of America and the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producer expired Oct. 31. Talks that began this summer failed to produce much progress on the writers' key demands for a bigger slice of DVD profits and revenue from the distribution of films and TV shows over the Internet.

Writers and producers gathered for negotiations Sunday at the request of a federal mediator.

The two sides met for nearly 11 hours before East Coast members of the writers union announced on their Web site that the strike had begun for their 4,000 members.

Producers said writers refused a request to "stop the clock" on the planned strike while talks continued.

"It is unfortunate that they choose to take this irresponsible action," producers said in a statement.

Producers said writers were not willing to compromise on their major demands.

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

"The AMPTP made no response to any of the other proposals that the WGA has made since July," writers said in a statement.

The strike is the first walkout by writers since 1988. That work stoppage lasted 22 weeks and cost the industry more than $500 million.

The first casualty of the strike would be late-night talk shows, which are dependent on current events to fuel monologues and other entertainment.

Daytime TV, including live talk shows such as "The View" and soap operas, which typically tape about a week's worth of shows in advance, would be next to feel the impact.

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.

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, who are protected by federal law from employer retribution if they decide to honor picket lines, the local said.

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.

"We'll get what they get," Screen Actors Guild president Alan Rosenberg told The Associated Press.

The guilds have been preparing for these negotiations for years, hiring staff with extensive labor union experience, and developing joint strategies and a harder line than producers have seen in decades.

"We haven't shown particular resolve in past negotiations," said John Bowman, the WGA's chief negotiator.

From NPR reports and The Associated Press

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