Picketing Outside 'Today' Show as Writers Strike Begins

The first walkout by Hollywood writers in nearly 20 years got under way Monday with noisy pickets outside the "Today" show -- a strike that threatens to disrupt everything from late-night talk shows to soap operas.

A giant, inflated rat was put on display Monday as about 40 people in Rockefeller Center shouted, "No contract, no shows!"

"The seven-word mantra is, `When you get paid, we get paid,"' said Michael Winship, president of the Writers Guild of America East.

Click here to read Adam Housley's blog on the strike

The strike is the first walkout by writers since 1988. That work stoppage lasted 22 weeks and cost the industry more than $500 million.

The "Today" show is not directly affected by the strike because news writers are part of a different union. The picket was set up behind police barricades in an area adjacent to the NBC studios, where shows like "Late Night with Conan O'Brien" might be forced to play re-runs.

Writers' demands for a bigger slice of DVD profits and revenue from the distribution of films and TV shows over the Internet has been a key issue.

"They claim that the new media is still too new to structure a model for compensation," said Jose Arroyo, a writer for "Late Night with Conan O'Brien."

"We say give us a percentage so if they make money, we make money," said Arroyo.

Diana Son, a writer for "Law & Order: Criminal Intent," said she has three children and getting residuals was the only way she could take time off after giving birth.

"It's an extremely volatile industry," said Son. "There's no job security. Residuals are an important part of our income. There's no cushion. I rely on residuals from my previous work to get me through periods when I am not working."

"It sounds justifiable to me," said onlooker Dan Kelly of Bethlehem, Pa., a retired New York Police Department detective. "Look at all the fine actors from early on who never got residuals."

But Millie Kapzen of Memphis, Tenn., who watched the pickets from across the street, said she was "disgusted. ... I really think they should try harder to negotiate."

Kapzen, wearing her medal from Sunday's New York City Marathon, said she sells advertising for radio stations. "We've already had cancellations of sweeps weeks ads" by the networks.

In Los Angeles, writers also were planning to picket 14 studio locations in four-hour shifts from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. each day until a new deal is reached.

The contract between the 12,000-member Writers Guild of America and the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producer expired Oct. 31. Talks that began this summer failed to produce much progress.

Writers and producers had gathered for negotiations Sunday at the request of a federal mediator.

The two sides met for nearly 11 hours before East Coast members of the writers union announced on their Web site that the strike had begun for their 4,000 members.

The first casualty of the strike would be late-night talk shows, which are dependent on current events to fuel monologues and other entertainment.

Daytime TV, including live talk shows such as "The View" and soap operas, which typically tape about a week's worth of shows in advance, would be next to feel the impact.

The strike will not immediately impact production of movies or prime-time TV programs. Most studios have stockpiled dozens of movie scripts, and TV shows have enough scripts or completed shows in hand to last until early next year.