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Chat about WGA strike

November 15, 2007

This chat has already taken place. Read the transcript below.

Jeff Drake, a 1992 KU grad and current Writers Guild of America member based in Los Angeles, will discuss the reasons behind the current strike and what it's like picketing with famous people.

Moderator:

Hi, I'm Jon Niccum, Entertainment Editor of the Journal-World, and I'll be moderating this chat. Please welcome Jeff Drake, a 1992 KU grad who is a member of the Writers Guild of America and currently based in Los Angeles.

Jeff Drake:

Hi, great to be here.

Moderator:

So Jeff, why are your peers on strike?

Jeff Drake:

I'm guessing you want the short answer. We're on strike because we want to be compensated fairly for work that we have written.

Jeff Drake:

Mainly at stake is material we have written that is downloaded or streamed on the Internet. Currently, we are not paid for this material.

Moderator:

Have you actually been picketing?

Jeff Drake:

Yes. I've been walking the picket lines almost every day since the strike began November 5th.

Moderator:

Seen anybody famous while on the picket line?

Jeff Drake:

Yes. That's the most encouraging aspect of the strike is how many actors are out in support of our cause. Julia Louis Dreyfus has been out on several occasions. The entire cast of "Desperate Housewives." The cast of the awesome AMC show "Mad Men" (which if you haven't seen it, you totally should...brilliant!). Jeff Garlin from "Curb Your Enthusiasm" was handing out free porn DVDs to writers at a big rally we had in front of FOX last Friday. That's just a small sampling.

Jeff Drake:

There's a mixture of both. There's a lot of sympathy from motorists who drive by and honk and wave. There's a lot of sympathy from other people in the industry, as well. Even people who are, in effect, put out of work because of this strike -- like the makeup people and set builders, etc. On the other hand, there's some anger too. Mostly what I've found on the picket lines is support though. Which is encouraging. Of course, the strike is still young. I'm sure there's anger brewing.

chewyfally:

Run into any bad behavior on the picket line? Are people treating the picketers okay?

trombeck:

What's the mood like there among those who aren't striking? Are people generally sympathetic or angry that this is going on?

Jeff Drake:

For the most part, again, people have been civil. A writer was injured by a motorist last week though. You know, we're marching in front of the gates and preventing some vehicles from getting into the studios. And one motorist got a little overzealous and ran over the foot of a picketer. It wasn't serious...I mean, other than the fact that a car ran over a part of his body. But he was okay. Also, a cop sat and watched our picket earlier this week, just waiting for someone to cross into the crosswalk (where we were marching) AFTER the red hand had begun flashing. And he ticketed two people for jaywalking. One of them just happened to be an actor from "Desperate Housewives" -- one half of the gay couple who just moved to Wisteria Lane (for those who watch the show).

Sigmund:

The last SWG strike led to the rise of "Reality TV," what new horror will be visted upon the American public from this strike? Will you be fire bombing the scab Ellen DeGeneres's house or her car for crossing the picket lines? Shouldn't bloggers who support your union show their solidarity and stop blogging?

Jeff Drake:

Honestly, there are LOTS of bloggers whom I think should stop blogging. But I kid. I kid because I care. To address your questions: Yes, Ellen's house will be fire bombed (or at least we'll leave a bag of flaming dog poop on her doorstep....poop from the dog she abandoned....ironically). And there have been plenty of jokes circulating about the horrible reality shows that may emerge from the strike: America's Loudest Voice, Who Wants to Marry My Pig, etc.

Moderator:

What work actually got you into the Writers Guild?

Jeff Drake:

I got hired as a staff writer on The Megan Mullally Show, which was a daytime talk show that ran for about three months last year. Typical of many WGA members, I was employed for about six months, and have not been employed on a TV show since.

ChristyLittle:

I've read speculation that daytime programming writers will cross the lines first -- could networks expect that if they hold out long enough, the strike effort will fall apart?

Jeff Drake:

The networks are obviously hoping that if they hold out long enough the strike effort will fall apart. That's their whole strategy. And I've also heard that some soap operas, for instance, have already hired scab (or non-union) writers. But I don't personally feel like daytime TV is the most hotly contested front of this battle (though it is every bit as important). Most daytime shows aren't streamed and downloaded online as much as prime time and late night shows. To address the larger issue though, I think it'll be a while before the strike effort will fall apart on the writers' side. We're pretty dedicated to the cause. And when we voted to strike, over 90% of the members voted to strike. That's a strong statement of unity, I think.

monkeywrench:

will the wga strike affect film writers? because i will NOT do without my tyler perry.

Jeff Drake:

The WGA strike includes film writers. But those effects aren't really seen as immediately. Expect a pretty weak slate of films in 2008, if the strike continues. And I feel your pain on the Tyler Perry issue. We all do.

trombeck:

So what's your best guess for how long the strike will last?

Jeff Drake:

It's totally up to the studios right now. We're ready to negotiate with them; whereas, they don't want to come to the table. So, it's hard to call. They can let this drag out as long as they like. That said, even though they've been really cocky in their position so far, I've gotta believe that come mid-December, they're going to start sweating looking forward to a February sweeps period (where ad revenues are measured) with crappy replacement shows. With the exception of FOX (American Idol), the other networks don't have much to fill their nights. I don't think the other three networks would enjoy the idea of Idol completely soaking up all the viewers. So while I think there's probably no end in the immediate future, there might be some talks in December. But, honestly, I don't really know. Maybe it's just wishful thinking on my part.

Moderator:

Anything else you want to add about the cause/effect of the strike?

Jeff Drake:

I want to say that I really feel for the people affected by the strike who are the craftspeople in the industry. I know that this whole thing seems so screwed to them. And I know that it's easy for them to get angry at the writers. But the writers aren't really to blame for them being out of work. The networks refuse to share the giant money pie they see in front of them, and so they've put us in the position of striking in order to fight for our fair share. But the writers don't hire and fire anyone. The networks do. In fact, the networks hire and fire EVERYONE on a show. So the fact that people end up out of work, and the responsibility of that, falls completely to the network bosses. But, of course, those same bosses love to see the other workers turning against the writers. It makes their job easy, and gives them good PR for their cause ("greedy writers" etc. etc.). Of course, when those network bosses get the chance, they'll screw everyone else out of their fair share too. That's just how business is. Unfortunately.

Moderator:

Thank you Jeff Drake for participating in our chat. Please say hi to Ellen DeGeneres if you see her.

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