Writers Guild chief adjusts to post-strike life

NEW YORK (Hollywood Reporter) - Patric Verrone was heading into a building at Boston’s Harvard Business School when a voice and footsteps suddenly got louder behind him.

“I just needed to meet you,” said a student, breathless as he caught up to the president of the Writers Guild of America West. “My fiancee told me -- she’s a writer on ‘Guiding Light’ -- she told me I had to shake your hand. You’re her hero.”

If Verrone was surprised by last week’s encounter, he kept a relaxed expression, shaking the student’s hand and chatting with him about his career and relationship.

Such is the labor leader’s life, which since the WGA strike ended three weeks ago has been marked by a strange mix of executive suspicion and rock-star fame. The mild-mannered and wry 48-year-old, who with his black hair brushed flat against his head can sometimes look like a boy at his confirmation, is accosted on the street by fans. They want to talk about the strike and the digital future, dish on producers and, sometimes, just bask in his presence.

Whether you believe the adoration is warranted probably depends on how you felt about the resolution of the 100-day WGA strike. But the encounters belie a larger question.

Just what does Verrone do these days?

Media, he says. Enforcement of the contract. And contemplate his next step. “I don’t know if I’m going to write a book or go on a speaking tour,” he said in an interview. “And it’s up to me to go back to making a living.”

Having finished a set of DVD movies for his Fox hit “Futurama,” the comedy writer (he also was behind the Jon Lovitz cult hit “The Critic”) is working on developing online content, in a move that might be motivated by philosophy as well as practicality. After a set of intense negotiations with the country’s biggest moguls, continuing to write for the big networks in at least the immediate future might be tricky.

Verrone tempers his new-media efforts with realism.

“There’s not a lot of money,” said the man who made new-media payment the central issue of the strike. “It’s easy to create a one-time phenomenon. The trick is how to get people coming back.”

Beginning his professional life as a lawyer in Florida, Verrone got his Hollywood start when some friends from the Harvard Lampoon suggested he move to Los Angeles to write for Fox’s new late-night show with Joan Rivers. He told his boss that he hoped to take a three-month leave -- a leave, he likes to joke, he’s still technically on.

Verrone's personality mixes a sophisticated take on labor and digital issues with a geekier sensibility you'd expect from an animated writer; he is the kind of person who remembers that "Beans Baxter" and "Mr. President" were among the early Fox shows. In his spare time, he also crafts figurines of Supreme Court justices and other historical figures, which he sells on eBay ( Antonin Scalia is the most popular by far, if you were wondering.

Having survived Hollywood labor strife, would he consider a run for political office?

“I spend a lot of time working on cartoons and puppets,” he said. “So politics seems like the next phase.”

Reuters/Hollywood Reporter