The weather took pity on striking WGA scribes Friday, with the sun peeking out on an otherwise rainy day just as guild mounted its 1 pm rally outside the Burbank office of “American Idol” producer FremantleMedia.
The picket and rally sesh shut down a small stretch of West Alameda Avenue, between Pass Avenue and Maple Street between noon-2 p.m. Pickets came equipped with signs wrapped in plastic for the event designed to highlight WGA’s push to organize reality tv scribes and others who perform writer-like functions on reality/alternative shows a la “American Idol” and “Deal or No Deal.”
Signs ready-made for the rally, which drew a crowd of several hundred people (smaller than other WGA central-location events but far more than last week’s old-timers rally at Sony when it was really pouring), included messages such as “Unscripted? Yeah, write” and “Fremantle: We’re Aiken for health insurance.”
Rally kicked off on a stage under a tarp-covered awning with a brief appearance by Tenacious D, aka the rock-god parody act of thesp Jack Black and Kyle Gass, who beat the crap out of their acoustic guitars and unveiled a new tune, “Fuck the Bullshit,” that went over well with the crowd with its refrain: “They’re gonna gobble up your Internet cream pie.”
WGA West prexy Patric Verrone served as emcee for a lineup of speakers that included hyphenate Paul Haggis, Kai Bowe (who was among the producers of “America’s Next Top Model” who went on strike when the producers refused their efforts to negotiate a guild contract); Aaron Solomon, a writer on Fremantle game show “Temptation” who walked off the show after company refused to negotiate a guild contract for him and three others; SAG’s Anne-Marie Johnson and thesp Alfre Woodard.
Verrone in his remarks made it clear that talks with AMPTP haven’t been too productive during the past 48 hours. He also promised the crowd that “we the Writers Guild will never be the ones to break off talks. We will stay at that table day and night for as long as it takes to get a good deal.”
He further emphasized that the guild never considered backing away from its reality TV jurisdictional demand in the current negotiation.
“It will be in our next contract,” Verrone told the crowd. He noted that the WGA’s leverage in the biz and compensation for all writers will go down if the expanding reality TV biz leads to “an army of non-guild writers” being developed. In contrast, 20 years ago WGA covered virtually inch of film and TV activity in town. “There was us, and there was Roger Corman,” Verrone quipped.
Bowe struck a chord with the crowd by observing that “the lines between reality and scripted shows are no longer blurred; they’re non-existant.” On many so-called unscripted shows, the scripts are “half-written before the shows are shot,” Bowe said. “If you are a writer or a producer in reality, the Writers Guild is your union. It’s that simple.”
Solomon got a rise out of the crowd by noting that even though Fremantle has balked at WGA coverage on its shows, which also include CBS’ “The Price is Right,” and does not list any writer credits on its shows, it did submit three “Price” writers for Daytime Emmy consideration earlier this year. According to Solomon, the costs of covering the four producers on “Temptation” who were seeking WGA recognition — after working 14-18 hour days to produce 170 episodes in 16 weeks — would have been about $5,000 a year.
“You could win that much in a game of Plinko,” Solomon joked, referring to one of the games on “Price.”
At the close of the rally, Verrone, WGA vp David Weiss, Solomon and Haggis took a petition signed by more than a thousand WGA members calling on Fremantle to give guild coverage to writers and producers on its shows into the lobby of Fremantle’s office. With security guards and two Burbank police officers looking on, a Fremantle exec came down, accepted the petition and spoke briefly with Verrone and Co.
“We both agreed that we’re all very concerned about working conditions for their employees,” Verrone told reporters after he exited the building.