Hollywood's film and television writers fanned out across Los Angeles early this morning, setting up picket lines outside the industry's major studios -- Warner Bros., Fox and Disney among them -- and said they were prepared to settle in for what could be a long and costly strike.


The striking began in earnest at 9 a.m. local time in New York, with "30 Rock" writer and star Tina Fey and others picketing outside Rockefeller Center on a frigid morning. A few hours later, at 9 a.m. West Coast time, hundreds of writers took to picket lines throughout the area: More than a hundred gathered outside Disney in Burbank, many dressed in red Writers Guild T-shirts. The writers were handed lyrics to several pro-union chants, including, "Network bosses, rich and rude, We don't like your attitude!"

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While many of the picket lines conjured up a jovial, party atmosphere as writers let loose their frustrations with negotiations that broke down at the eleventh-hour on Sunday night, there were smatterings of ugliness: A picketing writer was struck and injured by a car outside the Sunset-Gower Studios parking lot, allegedly by a driver who witnesses said threatened to run over the strikers if they didn't move out of his way.

There was plenty of star power to go around. Late night talk show host Jay Leno, actress Julia Louis-Dreyfus and Oscar-winning "Terms of Endearment" writer-director James L. Brooks were among thoselending their support on the picket lines early today.

In Leno's case, he also brought along several boxes of Krispy Kreme doughnuts for the strikers outside NBC offices in Burbank.

"I've been working with these people for 20 years," Leno said of the writers he relies upon. "Without them I'm not funny. I'm a dead man without them. There are a lot of misconceptions about how much these people make. Most of them are not highly paid. Some are, but the average make about 30 grand a year. I'm out here to support the writers. I'm on the writers' side."

The strike became inevitable late Sunday night, when, despite the aid of a federal mediator and back-channel talks between top writers and studio executives, the sides found themselves unable to bridge the gap between them. The two parties -- the Writers Guild of America and the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers -- could not come to terms on such key issues as how much writers are paid when their shows are shown online.

The question now is how long a walkout will last and how much pain it will inflict.

Both sides are girding for what many believe will be a long and debilitating strike, potentially more disruptive than the 22-week walkout by writers in 1988, which cost the entertainment industry an estimated $500 million.

Many of the strikers today said that they were prepared to keep this strike going for as long as necessary.

"I have a feeling it will be one long one," said Russ Woody, 51, who also struck in 1988 and now writes for the ABC series "Notes From the Underbelly." "We learned a lesson from that one. We let some things go that we shouldn't have," he said outside Warner Bros. Studios in Burbank.

The writers said they were buoyed by the reactions from passers-by to the picket lines: Many cars honked their horns in approval, or clapped and waved at the protesters.

In New York City, a 10-year-old boy walking by the Rockefeller Center strikers yelled out in support: "Don't let the man bring you down."

Times staff writers Matea Gold, Kate Aurthur, Maria Elena Fernandez, Joseph Menn, Michelle Maltais, Chris Lee, Robert W. Welkos, Greg Braxton, Martin Miller, Meg James and Andrea Chang contributed to this story.

rene.lynch@latimes.com