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Union rebukes Ellen DeGeneres over writers strike

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Comedian and daytime TV host Ellen DeGeneres drew a scathing rebuke on Friday from a union representing striking screenwriters for resuming work on her show after honoring picket lines the first day of the walkout.

An unidentified audience member arrives for a taping of "The Ellen DeGeneres Show" at the NBC Studios in Burbank, California November 6, 2007.REUTERS/Fred Prouser

The New York wing of the Writers Guild of America, actually a separate union called the WGA East, issued a statement saying DeGeneres was “not welcome” in New York and threatening to picket her show if she went ahead with plans to tape there on November 19 and 20.

But DeGeneres, a member of both the Writers Guild and its sister union for TV performers, the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists, drew immediate support from AFTRA and producers of her show. Both denied WGA East claims the popular TV star was breaking strike rules.

The flap came weeks after DeGeneres sparked a national uproar with a tearful on-air account of how an animal rescue group had taken back a puppy she had adopted but then given to a friend’s family without the animal agency’s permission.

“We find it sad that Ellen spent an entire week crying and fighting for a dog that she gave away, yet she couldn’t even stand by writers for more than one day,” the WGA East said.

The WGA West, generally considered less militant than its East Coast counterpart, had no comment on the issue.

“Ellen” show producers Telepictures Productions fired back with a statement saying WGA strike rules exempt any writing by entertainers who perform the material themselves.

Telepictures also said the union’s comparison between DeGeneres, whose daytime talk show is nationally syndicated to individual TV stations and other comedians hosting late-night programs on the major networks, was unfair.

NBC’s “The Tonight Show with Jay Leno” and CBS’ “Late Show with David Letterman, for example, have been on production hiatus since the first day of the writers’ strike while their networks air reruns of the programs.

Telepictures “has contractual obligations to continue to deliver original programming to the 220 stations that carry the (“Ellen”) program,” her producers said.

It was not clear why the WGA East singled out DeGeneres rather than her syndicated TV peers, including Oprah Winfrey, kitchen guru Rachael Ray or psychologist Dr. Phil McGraw.

AFTRA director Kim Roberts Hedgpeth weighed in with an angry letter of her own to the WGA East, saying DeGeneres was legally bound under the no-strike cause of her AFTRA contract to report to work on her show.

Appearing on Friday, the first episode she taped after taking Monday off to support the strike, DeGeneres said, “This is a strange show for me to do. It’s weird.”

“We’re in the middle of a strike. ... I love my writers. And in honor of them, I’m not going to do a monologue,” she said, before proceeding to dance into the audience and ad-lib with crew members until the first commercial break.

Earlier in the week, a striking head writer for “Ellen,” Karen Kilgariff, expressed sympathy for her boss during an interview on the picket line, saying of DeGeneres, “She had no choice. ... She’s in a very bad position.”