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Wesley Strick | Ken Levine | Linda Teverbaugh | Frank Pierson | Larry Gelbart | Jonathan Green and Gabe Miller | Chris Provenzano | Tim Long
Wesley StrickCredits include "True Believer" and "Cape Fear" and the novel "Out There in the Dark."
What did I do during the strike? Well, kids, I picketed Paramount. I marched and I chanted.
"When I say 'union' you say power ... . "
The iPhone rang. My agent. "Are you working on a spec script?"
"Can't talk now." I hung up they'd released the dogs. Phil Alden Robinson cried out: "Run!" We sprinted past the Windsor gate, heard them snapping at our heels. One lunged for Phil, but I beat it back with my WGA placard. Another block down Melrose, and we took refuge in Lucy's El Adobe. We were scared, demoralized. Susannah Grant led us in a song. I think it came from the end credits of "Erin Brockovich." We reemerged, formed an orderly line. Marched back en masse toward Bronson: "What are we doing at this gate? We got screwed in '88."
The iPhone rang again. My lawyer. "What about that project you're just supposed to direct?"
"Can't, I'm a hyphenate," I said. They brought out the hoses then. High pressure. Tom Schulman nearly floated away, north on Gower. I held out my picket sign so he could grab it, pull himself upright.
Marching resumed. Four abreast. Proud. United. The iPhone rang. My wife, your mother. "Could you stop at Ralph's on the way home for milk and lettuce?"
I said I could, racing toward my parked Prius, enveloped in a tear-gas cloud.
And that was just day one, kids. I'll tell you the rest when you're older.
Ken Levine Writer for "MASH," "Cheers" and "Frasier" who blogs at kenlevine.blogspot.com.
The great American novel that I started four strikes ago is almost done. I figure one more strike, two at the most, and I'll be ready to send it to my editor (who I hope is still alive; I haven't heard from him since 1985). So I've got a target date of 2014, but I'm close. Really close. I can feel it.
Taking one's convictions to the streets requires a constitution not associated with indoorsy writer-types like me.
The first day, my picket sign gave me splinters, which led to an infection. Worse, before half my shift was over, I was dying for a massage. Turns out that four hours of shuffling in front of CBS Television City is hard on the back.
Then I picketed in my own neighborhood, Burbank, which I thought would be fun. Our purpose was to screw up a shoot by making noise, so we had to keep chanting. All four hours. We could take breaks, but the Burbank police were there to make sure we took them on the hoof. A moving writer is a pedestrian, but a writer cooling his heels is a loitering menace.
Remember "We write the stor-ia for Eva Longoria"? I was there for that. In fact, after Longoria weepingly donated a stack of pizzas to our cause, I got a little chant going myself: "This is not the slice of the pie we meant." My clever commentary was largely lost: By that time the cops had taken away our bullhorn, and I was already losing my voice.
I ended up with laryngitis, then conjunctivitis (something flew in my eye at Warner Bros.), cystitis (no bathroom near Universal) and sinusitis (medical mystery).
Which is how I'll remember the Strike of '07-08 solidarity and antibiotics.
I couldn't write? It was a little death, or maybe not so little. Like early retirement. The golden years? Retirement means taking out the garbage, every day, maybe twice a day. Going to Dutton's Books to browse. To the pet store to talk to the parrots. Looking at TVs wider than our couch. Picket and gossip.
It's only 8:30 p.m.? I can't go to bed at this hour. Would it be disloyal to the guild to watch an "all-new" episode of "The L Word?" To think maybe Leno is better without writers?
Wrote a letter to Obama, telling him what to say and how to say it, threw it away and took the garbage out. I would have turned my unproduced script into a play, except Warner Bros. owns the copyright and I couldn't even talk to them about making a deal because I was on strike.
Write an Op-Ed piece? Sure.
Haiku-like. They'll change it Cut my heart out Old story
Things I did during my fourth WGA strike (while wishing I still had the legs I did during the first three):
Did a bit of reading (chiefly other than the Variety variety).
Did a lot of writing (working for my original, my favorite, boss me).
Learned to love actors (who knew they were so good at delivering picket lines?).
Rediscovered my family (remembered that there's life after show business).
Watched all the academy screeners (relearning the better the movie, the harder it is to convince anyone that it should ever be made).
Grew a beard (shaved it off when I discovered the old man hiding in my mirror).
Installed TiVo (never leave the house anymore).
Lost a few more peers (struck down during the strike, will they never be allowed to work in this town again?).
Found God (and misplaced him again).
In the end, the deal was too good to reject. The economics just made sense. Why pay $6.99 for a Bacon Turkey Bravo sandwich, when only 50 cents more could get you half a Bacon Turkey Bravo, plus your choice of soup or salad? Of all the watershed moments during the strike, including Bring Your Dog to Picket Day, none was as significant as the day we discovered Panera Bread's You Pick Two.
Because of its proximity to our picketing site and the siren-song lure of free Wi-Fi, Panera had become our office, where we met daily to work on our blog, "What We're Not Writing." It wasn't perfect. The electrical outlets were few, the menu carb-heavy, the music smooth jazz. Yet there we sat, as the specialty bagels turned from Thanksgiving's cranberry walnut to Christmas' cinnamon crunch, to a mocha-chip swirl whose connection to Groundhog Day is known only to CEO Ronald M. Shaich himself.
Over time we learned how early we had to arrive to snag a couch. We found out cashier Kristina was dating busboy Nathan. (Who saw that one coming?) We gained a grudging appreciation for the soprano sax.
And long after the harshness of strike life is a distant memory, we'll fondly recall the proud voices of Panera employees, fresh loaves in hand. They're shouting "Hot breaaad!" but what they're really saying is, "You're home, dear friends."
Try the Orchard Harvest Salad. Oh, and we just found out: You can add chicken.
Tucked inside the reindeer-themed Christmas card was a coupon announcing the imminent arrival of Top-Quality Beef From America's Heartland. My parents apparently assumed the writers strike would reduce me to poverty and eventually exhaust my tolerance for pasta seasoned with fennel from the local weed lot.
Come Jan. 3, a shrink-wrapped, Styrofoam cooler arrived on my doorstep. For a moment, I wondered if a human organ had been misdelivered to my Silver Lake apartment while the "Shortbus" DVD from Netflix ended up at Cedars-Sinai. Then I noticed a sticker on the parcel: "Extremely Perishable! Omaha Steaks!" Ah yes, I recalled, parental love in the form of vacuum-sealed meat. I chipped the permafrost out of my freezer and told myself I would save the best cuts for a special occasion.
A show I worked on this past season happened to be nominated for a Golden Globe. The night of the (canceled) awards ceremony, I lighted the grill, skewered some vegetables and clicked to E! online. It took 20 minutes to prepare the meal. It took slightly longer for the media to announce all the night's winners, of which we were one. The filet mignons were delicious.
The strike is over now, and I can finally look for my next assignment. It may take a while, but I'm not worried. I've got two New York strips in the freezer.
I began the strike with lofty plans to write a novel, which soon turned into a novella, which then turned into 13 solid weeks of playing "Guitar Hero III" in my underpants.
What I did manage to do was become a United States citizen. (I was born and raised in Canada.) I did it in part because the strike made me feel so patriotic I love that this country allows me to carry a picket sign depicting Rupert Murdoch as a money-crazed demon, complete with dollar signs in his eyes, and then go back to work for him the very next day.
During my citizenship ceremony, I sat next to a lovely older gentleman from Guatemala. When I told him I wrote for "The Simpsons," he asked me, in slightly halting English, what the writers strike was all about. I started fumfering about residuals and streaming rights and download windows, and I thought I saw a scowl pass over his face. Great, I thought, he figures me for a greedy Hollywood jerk, grubbing for yet more dough.
But then after the ceremony, as I walked out of the hall, the same man grabbed my arm and introduced me to his wife, a huge smile on his face: "This is Bart Simpson! He wants more money from the computer! He's a good guy!" God bless America, I thought, and God bless the Writer's Guild.