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MICHELE NORRIS, Host:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Michele Norris.

It is day one of the writers' strike, the first strike by TV and movie writers in almost 20 years. Screen writers in red T-shirts picketed in front of the studios in New York and Los Angeles. If it last very long, it could affect not only your favorite TV comedy, but movies in production, the Hollywood economy, and more.

We have two reports now. The first is from NPR's Kim Masters.

KIM MASTERS: Writers at the gates of the Warner Brothers' lot in Burbank seemed a bit perplexed at first, unsure of their lines. But as the morning wore on, they seem to hit their stride.

(SOUNDBITE OF PROTESTS)

U: Hollywood's a union town. The strike, turn down. Hollywood's a union town.

MASTERS: In Burbank, Julia Louis-Dreyfus joined writers from her show, "The New Adventures of Old Christine." And in New York, where writers were also walking the line...

(SOUNDBITE OF PROTEST)

U: What do we want?

U: Contracts.

U: When do we want it?

U: Now.

MASTERS: ...John Oliver, from "The Daily Show with Jon Stewart," was there.

NORRIS: There's a great feel, there's a great deal of unity. It helps that the issue is so clear, that something has to be done.

MASTERS: He laid out the key issue: Getting a piece of the revenue that studios and networks collect from the Internet and new technologies.

NORRIS: It's obvious that they not only are going to but have found ways of gaining revenue from selling stuff online, selling advertising, especially on - we have advertising pops-up, doing our clips on YouTube, so clearly, money is getting made. So, unfortunately, this has to happen now. It's best to do it now.

MASTERS: Producers have been unwilling to budge from their position that they're not making enough money from the Internet and other new technologies to cut writers in on the take.

Nick Counter, president of the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers, was taking a pessimistic view about the duration of the strike today, saying it could last for months. That seems exaggerated given his appraisal of the cost to writers.

NORRIS: Most of the writers that are successful will lose more in one week than they can ever gain from a strike.

MASTERS: And, Counter acknowledges, that writers are not the only ones at risk. The television networks have been losing their audience, and a schedule filled with reruns and reality may drive viewers away even faster.

NORRIS: The audience clearly is fragmented, and the strike exacerbates that problem. But we have no choice.

MASTERS: Writer Craig Mazin hasn't been entirely supportive of his union's strategy. But he says, now, writers have no choice. They must support the strike. Still, he sees it more as a protest than as an effective means to an end.

NORRIS: It's the equivalent of a monk lighting himself on fire to protest a war. Once the monk stops burning, all that's left is the continuation of a war and a dead monk.

MASTERS: The first shows to go into repeats as a result of the strike are the late-night talk shows. Many hosts try to prepare their audiences last week, including Conan O'Brien.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV PROGRAM "LATE NIGHT WITH CONAN O'BRIEN")

NORRIS: Believe it or not, some of the show is scripted.

(SOUNDBITE OF AUDIENCE BOOING)

NORRIS: Yes, I know it's shocking.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

NORRIS: I came up with the hair.

MASTERS: Some scripted shows have episodes in the can and can last a few more weeks. And there's always reality programming, which isn't covered by the union. The effects of the strike will take longer to reach movie theaters. Studios have vowed to proceed with scripts that are supposedly finished.

But writer Craig Mazin says there's no such thing as a locked script, because there are always rewrites during filming, and no member of the guild is permitted to do the work.

NORRIS: I would not want to start directing a movie during a writers' strike. I just don't see how you can do it without violating the core rules, the truly enforceable and meaningful rules that the writers' guild has put forth.

MASTERS: With a cost high to both sides, it's hard to come up with a realistic assessment of the strike's duration. The AMPTP's Nick Counter acknowledged that back-channel discussions are taking place now with powerful writer/producers. But on the key issues, the two sides still seem to be far apart.

Kim Masters, NPR News.

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