WGA pickets awaiting outcome of meetings

With the WGA poised to call it a wrap on the writers strike as early as this weekend, Thursday sure felt like the last day of picketing in Hollywood.

The scene outside Disney, the day’s primary picket site in the L.A. area, resembled the last day of school — or “Labor Day in the Catskills,” as veteran comedy scribe Lowell Ganz put it. There were lots of group hugs, photos snapped and exchanges of phone numbers and emails.

In New York, the WGA East is planning what looks like the final major rally today at Time Warner Plaza in Manhattan. On Thursday it was picketing as usual outside the studios where “The View,” “The Colbert Report” and “Late Night With Conan O’Brien” are shot.

Officially, most pickets told Daily Variety that they’re still waiting to hear the details on the contract agreement from WGA leaders at membership meetings called for Saturday in L.A. and Gotham.

“I’m going to wait to hear what they have to say on Saturday before I decide,” said film and TV scribe Jim Kouf, who was one of more than 600 pickets to show up outside Disney’s main gate in Burbank on Thursday morning. “I do not want us to prematurely accept a bad contract, after everything we’ve been through,” he said.

Some cited specific concerns about the deal points as reported in the media. In particular, writers are taking a dim view of the 17- to 24-day window that studios have for free usage before writers get paid for programs streamed on the Web.

“They have a lot of information to share with us on Saturday,” said screenwriter Garrick Dowhen. “There are some real serious points that I need to be convinced of.”

It was telling, however, that many snippets of conversation overhead among pickets revolved around subjects other than the strike and contract fight. The presidential election and Super Tuesday results were hot topics, particularly the ayem announcement that Mitt Romney was bailing out of the GOP race, as was speculation about what TV shows and pilot projects may be quickly put back into production if the strike goes dark as expected early next week.

The official decision process on whether to call off the strike will begin emerging at Saturday’s dual membership meetings — at 2 p.m. ET at the Crowne Plaza in Gotham and at 7 p.m. PT at the Shrine Auditorium south of downtown Los Angeles. Should the deal not encounter significant opposition at those sessions, the WGA West board and the WGA East Council could meet as early as Sunday to approve the pact for ratification by members and issue a back-to-work order.

Although the WGA remained under a news blackout due to continuing negotiations, those talks consist largely of lawyers working out specific contract language for the outlines of the deal agreed to late last week by WGA West president Patric Verrone, exec director David Young and negotiating committee chief John Bowman in talks with News Corp. president Peter Chernin and Disney topper Robert Iger.

On picket lines Thursday, strike captains said they’re deferring to Verrone, Young and Bowman for the time being.

“I trust our leadership to do the right thing,” said strike captain Michael Tabb, who’s been one of the more memorable sights during the 14 weeks of the WGA strike. Tabb has been on the line at Disney since the opening day of the strike on Nov. 5, even though he’s had a walking boot for an injury on his left foot during the entire work stoppage.

“It hurts like hell every day, but my therapy can wait,” he added.

Tabb’s red-and-black picket sign is covered with hundreds of signatures, including those of showrunners Phil Rosenthal, Joss Whedon and Shawn Ryan.

“I want to be able to show my grandchildren that I actually did stand up for something,” he explained.

Tabb also noted that the frayed relationship between writers and struck companies isn’t something that’s beyond repair. “This has been kind of like a relationship that wasn’t working — sometimes you need to take a break.”

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