It was a tale of two coasts today, as WGA picketers and their allies targeted Disney’s upfront presentation in New York and also the company’s Burbank lot in Los Angeles. And the two scenes were very different.
This morning at the Disney upfront, pickets were being kept a solid two blocks away from the venue on 10th Ave. Here’s the view looking south from the main entrance:
By Tuesday afternoon, upfront guests in power suits and skirts shared the curb on with sign-waving demonstrators in union t-shirts outside the Javits Convention Center on Manhattan’s West Side. Some invitees gave protesters a wide berth by walking in the street. But no one streaming into Disney’s presentation while NYPD officers and private security guards looked on could avoid at least a little contact with the strike.
Not even Bob Iger. Shortly before 4 p.m., the Disney chief stepped out of an SUV that had stopped close to a tent with a hospitality table, witnesses said. It just happened to be the hospitality table for the Writers Guild of America East, organizers of the marches targeting network upfronts in New York City for the writers’ strike’s third week.
WGA members who spotted Iger just a few feet away told Deadline Hollywood that one called out to him by name, but before any dialogue between an influential media CEO and any strikers could develop, two security guards hustled Iger away. “That’s the most time he’s spent with the Writers’ Guild,” one WGA representative quipped.
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Another WGA member spotted Michael Gelman, the producer of ABC’s Live With Kelly and Mark, a behind-the-camera figure famous for being name-checked constantly and summoned occasionally onto the set with exasperated cries of “Gelman!” by the show’s excitable first host, Regis Philbin.
A few arrivals on Tuesday accepted union flyers on their way past a picket line they were urged not to cross, and some smiled back at a marcher who regaled them with friendly patter: “Thank you, upfronts people, for your support; we feel your positive energy. … Spend those ad dollars wisely. … You look fantastic! This is your Met Gala.”
The afternoon march, which started with about 100 people and grew to more than double at its peak, got a boost from a visiting union boss. Randi Weingarten, president of the 1.7-million-member American Federation of Teachers, kicked off the protest with a five-minute stemwinder that she delivered through a bullhorn with her eyes frequently shut tight and her voice turning hoarse.
“Teachers love great writers,” Weingarten began. “Teachers nurture great writers. Teachers live for great writers.”
She praised “the writers of film and TV and late-night” for keeping viewers engaged, and she credited their work for providing lifesaving comfort and hope in the darkest days of the pandemic. “It really saved people,” she said.
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“So how in the — let me not curse; remember, I am a school teacher,” she said to laughter. “So how is it that the core of what has built this industry right now, the core of what this industry is about, is forgotten when it’s time to give that core a decent living wage?”
“Streaming and the new technology creates more broad-based access. That should mean higher wages for writers, not lower wages,” she said, drawing whoops and applause.
Several hours before the Disney upfront, dozens of picketers gathered outside ABC Studios on the Upper West Side during a taping of The View, the popular morning talk show airing on Disney-owned ABC.
Among the marchers was one who sold his first screenplay around the time of a WGA strike in 1973 and was in the guild for strikes in 1981, 1985 and 2007: Andrew Bergman, who conceived of and co-wrote the 1974 cowboy movie spoof Blazing Saddles with a fellow New Yorker, Mel Brooks.
Bergman went on to write several more comedic films including The In-Laws (1979) and Fletch (1985). He wrote and directed Honeymoon in Vegas (1992) and Striptease (1996). Unlike writer-director Brooks, Bergman wasn’t an actor, which might account for the unofficial title that pops up in his online biographies: The Unknown King of Comedy (from a 1985 New York magazine profile).
He was a discreet-enough presence on Tuesday in sunglasses and a black WGA/AFL-CIO baseball cap, even with a picket sign in neon marker bright green that read “Discontent making ‘CONTENT.’” As the morning march wrapped up, Bergman spoke with Deadline Hollywood and gave a short description of the position, as he understood it, of the network and studio executives that the writers are striking against: “They want all the money.”
Bergman recalled hearing Les Moonves, the CBS chief, complain one time that writer demands would “break the company.”
And at the end of the year he gave himself a $60 million raise,” Bergman said.
Bergman said writers breaking into film and television today have it harder than he did. “The business I got into doesn’t exist anymore,” he said. “But even by that standard, it’s bad.”
He said he wouldn’t be surprised if, after this strike ends, writers have to do it all again in another few years. He said he’ll be on that picket line, too, “if I’m still walking the earth.”
In L.A., meanwhile, the turnout was big and boisterous outside the gate of the fabled Burbank studio. About 300 picketers — including members of the Asian American Writers Committee, the Black Writers Committee and SAG-AFTRA — made some noise, at times singing and dancing.
Among them was The Big Door Prize actress Gabrielle Dennis, who told Deadline, “I have so many friends who are writers and it’s the writers who help me get to do my job. It’s the pages that I get to bring to life.”
Actor David Brown, from Freevee’s Jury Duty, echoed the sentiment, saying, “There are no shows without writers, no ideas without writers and no future for this industry without writers.”
Bruce Helford, showrunner of Lopez vs. Lopez and The Conners said he’d been a member of the WGA for 40 years. “This is about the future for younger writers. They opportunities they have, to have a career that will support their families,” he told Deadline. “So we’ve to be out here and we’ve got to be out here for as long as it takes to fix this up.”
Kristina Woo, Chair of the Asian American Writers Committee, put it more succinctly. “We are fighting for the existence of the writing career as a profession,” she said.