LOS ANGELES (AFP) — Hollywood writers took to the picket lines Monday to begin their first strike against the US film and television industry in nearly two decades after last-ditch talks to avoid a walk-out broke down.
Writers in New York were the first to down pens, with several dozen members of the 12,000-strong Writers Guild of America (WGA) manning a picket line outside the NBC network's studios at the Rockefeller Center.
The WGA has been wrangling with the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers (AMPTP) over payments from DVD and Internet broadcasts, seeking to secure a larger cut of the profits with an increase from around five cents per sale to around eight cents.
"They (the producers) just can't get away with it any more. It's just a whole bunch of corporate greed," said Peter Brash, a writer on the soap opera "As the World Turns" who was picketing in New York.
Around 15 picket lines were set up at studios and production facilities across Los Angeles, with strikers warning they were ready for the long haul.
Thomas Lennon, who co-wrote the script for the smash-hit Ben Stiller comedy "Night at the Museum," said most writers had wanted to avoid industrial action.
"We're not happy to be on strike," he told AFP as he picketed outside the Sunset Gower studios in Hollywood.
"I think if you asked any member of the guild they would tell you that they would rather be working. But at the same time we want a contract that is fair."
At the Disney studios in Burbank, writers were given lyrics to several pro-union chants, including: "Network bosses, rich and rude, We don't like your attitude!"
The early casualties of the strike were talk shows, soap operas, and comedy programs.
The two major US late-night talk shows "The Tonight Show with Jay Leno" and "The Late Show with David Letterman," which both rely heavily on teams of union writers, were among the first shows due to go off the air later Monday.
Leno distributed doughnuts and expressed support for strikers picketing outside NBC studios in Burbank.
"I've been working with these people for 20 years," Leno was quoted as saying by Los Angeles Times. "Without them I'm not funny."
The Letterman and Leno shows both aired re-runs, while "The Daily Show with Jon Stewart," on cable television, re-ran a September 2006 interview with Pakistan's military ruler Pervez Musharraf.
Major motion picture studios and television programs have stockpiled scripts that should insulate them from the effects of the strike for a year or longer.
The dispute hinges on writers' demands for a greater share of residual profits from television series sold on DVDs and money made from programs shown on the Internet, cell phones, and other new media outlets.
Producers acknowledge that online viewing is increasing and promise to study the issue, but argue that it is too early to say how profitable it will be.
Writers are determined not to repeat a mistake made decades earlier, when they underestimated how lucrative home video sales would become and settled for a contract that gives them just three cents of each DVD film sale.
A federal mediator presided over a last-ditch effort Sunday to avert the strike, but as of Monday no negotiations were taking place.
"No one is talking at the moment," a WGA spokeswoman told AFP. "Of course we will always remain willing to negotiate but the ball is in the AMPTP court at the moment."
Writers get 1.2 percent of revenues from shows streamed online for one-time viewing but get nothing from content downloaded from websites such as iTunes.
AMPTP has refused to discuss new media in negotiations during the past three months, rejecting the guild's demands as unworkable and too expensive.
Industry analysts predict a lengthy shutdown lasting several months, with one estimate of potential losses set at more than one billion dollars.
A similar writers' strike in 1988 lasted 22 weeks and cost the industry an estimated 500 million dollars.
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