WGA goes ‘Picketing With the Stars’

Actors turn out en masse to support writers

Casting an eye to July — when their deal with the studios expires — actors joined the writers strike picket line en masse Tuesday, crowding the lengthy sidewalk outside Universal Studios.

Dubbed “Picketing With the Stars” by the Writers Guild, the event attracted a wide variety of thesps, including Patricia Heaton, Marg Helgenberger, Nicollette Sheridan, Amy Brenneman, Minnie Driver, Jonah Hill, Ray Romano, Andy Samberg and T.R. Knight.

“SAG knows the fight we’re fighting is their fight as well,” said “The Shield” and “The Unit” exec producer Shawn Ryan, who brought several of his series’ stars to the rally. “And it’s rare that all the writers and actors can agree on everything.”

Indeed, thesps have made frequent stops at the picket lines in the past week in order to lend support; some, like Steve Carrell, have refused to cross the line, while others such as Julia Louis-Dreyfus have become familiar faces in the strike zone.

For the “Picketing With the Stars” gathering, actors — and in most cases, their showrunners — sweated in the 85 degree heat (Ray Romano cracked that the picketers should join the global warming movement next), and attracted a steady stream of news cameras, giving them ample opportunity to state the writers’ case.

“Desperate Housewives” creator Marc Cherry, who helped organize Tuesday’s star-driven picket session at Universal, said he was overwhelmed by the response from actors.

“I’m a little embarrassed,” Cherry said. “It’s much bigger than expected. There are some problems with crowd control.”

The sidewalk outside Universal’s Lankershim gates was crammed with scribes and actors as they interacted — and in some cases conducted mini-reunions. The sea of people was so thick that actual marching wasn’t possible, but orange cones were spread out on the street so people could move about without fear of falling into traffic.

“Desperate Housewives” actors hitting the picket line Tuesday included Sheridan, Felicity Huffman, James Denton, Dana Delany, Andrea Bowen and others.

“Pretty much every one of my actors have joined the picket line since the strike began,” Cherry said.

“Picketing With the Stars” repped the latest picket line theme day conducted by the WGA to stir up attention and keep the story of striking writers in the press. Up next is another mega-rally, this time in Hollywood, on Tuesday.

“Two and a Half Men” star Jon Cryer said he’s “not even a pro-union person, but I’m walking the line.

“I belong to five unions and I don’t like any of them,” he said. “But the WGA is just right. When the studios pull something like this, it has to be addressed.”

Another CBS star, “CSI’s” Marg Helgenberger, said scribes had no choice but to strike.

“At some point in history, somebody needs to take a stand,” she said. Studios “always say, ‘Let’s try to grow this particular market — cable, DVDs — and we’ll revisit it later and compensate you for it.’ It hasn’t happened for 25 years, so clearly they’re not good for their word.”

“Saturday Night Live” star Andy Samberg is sort of a poster child for the power of the Internet. “Lazy Sunday,” which he co-wrote, helped turn YouTube into a major online force. He said he doesn’t buy the argument that nets and studios don’t know if there’s money to be made on the ’Net.

“As long as there’s advertising on their pages, there’s clearly money being made there,” he said.

So what about working up a pro-WGA viral video to get the message out?

“I would never say no, but right now I’m just getting my laundry done,” he quipped.

Filmmaker Garry Marshall showed up at the rally as both a scribe and a star. He’s got a long history of WGA strikes.

“I joined in 1960. They said, ‘Hello, here’s a picket sign,’ ” Marshall joked, adding that there seems to be more support for this strike than some others.

“The future is short for me, but I want it to be a good one on the Internet,” he said.

Also motoring up to the demonstration: “Tonight Show” host Jay Leno.

Leno repeatedly declined to say whether he would be returning as host of “The Tonight Show” if a strike wears on (as Johnny Carson eventually did 20 years ago) or what he thought of NBC’s announcement that it was considering guest hosts if he didn’t.

As for the current spate of repeats, Leno joked about the dated nature of jokes.

“I think I’m talking about Reagan’s trip to Bitburg tonight,” he said.

Pointing to the sea of scribes and thesps holding signs and wearing red T-shirts, Lily Tomlin, star of the upcoming HBO entry “12 Miles of Bad Road,” called writers “a special breed.”

“Just the fact that so many of them are out here is a testament to their spirit,” she said. “Writers are normally very sedentary by nature.”

Meanwhile, “Everybody Loves Raymond” exec producer Phil Rosenthal, echoing the frustration of many that talks have not resumed, threw out a modest proposal — dinner, free of charge at one of the restaurants he’s an investor in (including Jar and Mozza), for any conglom chief willing to resume talks.

“To the first studio head who says ‘I’ll come to the table,’ I’ll put food on the table,” Rosenthal said.

“ ’Til Death” star Brad Garrett, standing next to his old “Raymond” boss Rosenthal, then piped in and offered to serve any meal, taking advantage “of all my years as a waiter.”

Of course, Garrett also said he’d “put a little goody in (Leslie) Moonves’ sorbet” — but promised that that’s a joke.

“If Les is listening to me, I know he’ll do the right thing,” said Rosenthal, who added that he’s in a “funny position” when it comes to standing on the opposite side of his former CBS partners. “I owe my life to Les Moonves.”

Nonetheless, Rosenthal said he’s striking because of the future, when series may no longer even be telecast over the air.

“What happens when we make a show for TV, and they say, ‘let’s put it on the Internet instead’?” he asked. “That’s why we’re here.”

Tuesday’s rally also provided another platform for an impromptu “Everybody Loves Raymond” reunion, as Rosenthal and Garrett were soon joined by Ray Romano and Patricia Heaton.

“We’re here because there were people years ago who struck so that we could have what we have,” Rosenthal added.

“Law & Order: SVU” exec producer Neal Baer said he hoped a common ground could eventually be reached between the studios and the writers, and even floated a topic both sides should be banding together to fight: piracy.

Baer said he was in Africa when “The Simpsons Movie” was released, and saw bootleg copies being sold on street corners a day after it hit theaters.

“They’re losing billions of dollars, and we’re losing millions,” Baer said. “Now that is the common ground.”

But Ryan noted that the real issue now is making a deal — and that the writers “are ready.”

“When Peter Chernin is in the press talking about how the strike is good for them, who’s really keeping everyone, the crews, out of work?” he said.

Garrett said he believed that the studios were well aware how important scribes are: “Some of the biggest deals in our business are with writer-producers,” he noted.

But, he added, he thought the contract talks had degraded into “a pissing match. And that’s not going to help anyone.”

“Just get back to the table,” Garrett added. “It’s not a game of chicken.”

That said, Garrett has thrown his lot in with the writers, noting that “we’re nowhere without them. People deserve a piece of the pie,” he added. “We’re talking percentages. If they don’t make anything, we don’t make anything.”

Garrett knows a thing or two about highly charged negotiations, having been at the center of a rough reup on “Everybody Loves Raymond.”

“I had a well-publicized negotiation four years ago,” he said. “All I wanted was my share. That’s all the writers want.”

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