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WGA West board member David Weiss: “It’s about walking in the rain”

About 40 or so hearty WGA members braved a steady rain — more than a drizzle but less than a downpour — outside the NBC compound in Burbank on Friday to prove, in the words of one picket, that “we will stand in the rain for hours and hours” in pursuit of what they view as a fair shake from Hollywood’s majors.

“We don’t want to people to forget that we really do want to resolve this” strike, said comedy scribe Bill Odenkirk. “We’re serious. We will stand in the rain for hours and hours to make this point.”

Odenkirk and other pickets said it was important that striking scribes have a presence on Alameda Avenue, outside “The Tonight Show with Jay Leno” studio to help dissuade guests from appearing on the NBC latenighter.

“We want to make the point to people considering going on Leno’s show that there is a strike going on,” Odenkirk said. “We want people to pay attention to our issues.”

“Tonight Show” has become a prime target of WGA’s picket activity this week after the guild cut an interim deal with Leno competitor David Letterman’s production company, allowing CBS’ latenight block to resume production with scribes.

Leno has since raised the ire of the guild by writing and delivering monologues on his show since it resumed on Wednesday. Per the guild’s strike rules, that’s a no-no for Leno, who is a WGA member. Leno and NBC’s legal eagles have disputed the guild’s interpretation of the rules regarding material that a host performs.

The pickets outside NBC got an update and keep-the-faith message from WGA West board member David Weiss around noontime. Weiss said he felt Leno had “exercised really bad judgment” in his decision to write his own material but he stopped short of condemning the host too strongly in front of the crowd. There’s no upside for the guild in publicly sparring with such a visible figure, especially one who has generally been sympathetic to the WGA’s cause.

“The companies would love to get us into a fist fight with Jay Leno,” Weiss said. “We don’t want to give the companies what they want.”

When questioned by pickets about Leno’s statement on Wednesday’s show that he felt the situation amounted to 19 writers putting the show’s 160 staffers out of work, Weiss said it was a “wrong-headed” thing for Leno say. He put the blame for the strike squarely back on the AMPTP congloms.

“The huge media conglomerates walked away from the table,” Weiss said. “They’re the ones causing tremendous pain and aggravation for thousands of people.”

Weiss told the crowd it was more important that the strike continue to exert economic pressure on the industry and by association, the local and state economy.

“As miserable as it is, this battle is over morale. If they can break our morale, they don’t have to writer those checks,” he said. “The way to end this strike is tied to your feet. It’s about walking in the rain.”

Weiss’ sentiment was echoed by scribe/actor David Dean Bottrell, who joked that he woke up Friday morning, saw the dark clouds and asked himself “how bad do I want a good contract? I guess I want one pretty bad.”

“I came out here today because I want the people driving by in their dry cars to see just how badly we’re willing to work for a contract, and how much we believe that what we’re asking for is fair,” Bottrell said.

–Cynthia Littleton