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Writers March in Support of Strikers

Times Staff Writer

More than 700 writers marched through the Fairfax district Wednesday, showing their support for striking colleagues on the hit reality TV show “America’s Next Top Model.”

Organized by the Writers Guild of America, West, the rally and march were the first in a series of planned events aimed at sending a larger message to studios in advance of contract talks in 2007 that writers were united.

Major Hollywood studios are preparing for a possible strike by writers, whose contract expires Nov. 1 of next year. Among the most contentious issues are representation and pay for writers on reality TV shows, and the cut that writers receive when shows are sold over the Internet and on other forms of new media.

The two-hour rally coincided with the debut of the latest installment of supermodel Tyra Banks’ “America’s Next Top Model” contest, which kicked off Wednesday night on the new CW television network created by CBS Corp. and Warner Bros. Twelve writers from the show went on strike in July, saying the show’s producers prevented them from joining the union.

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“For the past nine weeks, 12 writers from ‘America’s Next Top Model’ have had the courage to do something that writers in this union haven’t done in almost twenty years,” guild President Patric M. Verrone told a crowd at Pan Pacific Park.

The writers are seeking benefits and protections similar to those enjoyed by unionized writers on sitcoms and dramas. Anisa Productions Inc. has accused the guild of trying to circumvent secret ballot elections overseen by federal labor officials. A CW spokesman declined to comment.

The strike has been backed by the guild as part of its larger campaign to organize workers in reality television. But the campaign has had limited success organizing shows, and some writers grumble that it has distracted the union from addressing more pressing issues.

Union members wore red T-shirts with the guild’s logo, carrying signs that read “Sitcoms Are United” and “Talk Shows Are United.” Speakers at the rally said writers must get a fair shake as entertainment moves into new media.

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“The WGA doctrine for the 21st century is: Every piece of media with a moving image on the screen must have a writer, and every writer must have a WGA contract,” Verrone said.

He was joined by other top writers, including Marc Cherry, executive producer of ABC’s “Desperate Housewives.”

“I can’t impress upon you enough how important it is to let the guild fight on your behalf for every single cent they can get out of the producers,” Cherry said.

Writers marched to CBS Television City, chanting “writers united, we will not be divided.”

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“We respect the guild members’ right to express their views,” CBS spokesman Chris Ender said. “We, too, see the next round of industry negotiations as important and look forward to meeting with the guilds at the bargaining table.”

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richard.verrier@latimes.com


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