Striking New York writers to target media giants

NEW YORK (Hollywood Reporter) - New York, home to 2,500 Writers Guild of America (WGA) members and about 30 shows, will be hit hard by the union’s first strike in 20 years, which began Monday after months of tense negotiations.

The city Monday morning braced for picket lines at NBC headquarters at 30 Rockefeller Centre, which the WGA East said would be the first of several targets for striking writers this week. As many as several hundred showrunners and writers are expected to being picketing at 9 a.m., with guild members asked to sign on for either a morning or afternoon shift.

A WGA East spokeswoman said a different venue will be chosen each day this week; other potential targets, sources said, include Viacom, News Corp. and CBS headquarters. The WGA East has decided to focus on the big media companies, at least early in the strike, instead of on individual productions, said people close to the matter.

But the picket line could create difficult choices, especially for writer-producers who may be called upon by the networks to fulfil their nonwriting duties.

“It’s a question of ‘Do I picket or do I cast?’” said Siobhan O’Connor-Byrne, a writer-producer for USA’s “Law & Order: Criminal Intent,” which shoots in New York. She is scheduled to cast later this week for an episode she wrote. “It’s a little awkward.”

“Law & Order: CI” has scripts for all 10 of its episodes completed before a winter hiatus unrelated to the strike is set to begin; the effects of the strike on that show won’t be felt until April at the earliest.

Various primetime shows that tape in the city, including other extensions of the “Law & Order” franchise, WB high-school drama “Gossip Girl” and NBC sitcom “30 Rock,” could also go dark or be forced into reruns when their current batch of scripts runs out.

Writers for late-night New York shows, one of the areas that will be hardest hit, say the strike comes at a particularly inopportune time.

“As we head into the thick of a presidential race, there’s great material for us to be writing about,” said Steve Bodow, head writer of “The Daily Show With Jon Stewart.” “And it’s a period when our audience would be growing, whereas with weeks of reruns ...”

During the strike, Bodow said, he would try “to make the best of a bad situation by pursuing other creative endeavors, and, like a disgraced politician, I look forward to spending more time with my family.”

Most of the late-night shows taped in the city -- including “Late Show With David Letterman,” “Late Night With Conan O’Brien,” “Saturday Night Live” and the Jon Stewart- and Stephen Colbert-hosted shows on Comedy Central -- plan to go dark.

The city’s news divisions, meanwhile, have been ramping up as they rush to fill a programming void. “We’ve accelerated our production of a lot of ‘Primetime’ limited series,” said “Primetime” and “20/20” executive producer David Sloan.

The writers strike will touch only some employees at ABC News and CBS News, since just a small number are members of the union. CBS’s “60 Minutes” and “48 Hours Mystery” as well as ABC’s “20/20,” “Nightline” and “Primetime” could absorb some impact because some staffers are WGA members.

A strike could also have a trickle-down effect throughout the city, as members of the creative sector move from sets and offices to other venues. Comedy writers, for example, could end up on standup stages .

“During the last strike (in 1988), more writers (for late-night shows) were in the clubs more to keep tuned up,” said Caroline Hirsch, owner and president of comedy club Carolines on Broadway.

Reuters/Hollywood Reporter