Buoyant writers pump up the party

Times Staff Writer

NEW YORK -- Ever since writers went on strike in November, a scruffy-looking Seth Meyers, a head scribe for “Saturday Night Live,” has been a regular presence on the picket lines here. But after leaving Saturday’s Writers Guild of America meeting, where union leaders presented details about a tentative agreement with producers, the comedian shaved.

What prompted the dramatic gesture, which was on full display at the WGA awards in Manhattan that evening?

“Confidence,” Meyers said. “Confidence that this might soon be over.”

Such buoyancy filled the Hudson Theatre near Times Square, where several hundred members of the WGA East had assembled for its annual awards ceremony. The WGA West opted to cancel its program out of deference to the strike, but the WGA East decided to hold a scaled-down reception to honor the winners.


The idea of throwing a party initially struck some as awkward, even though the guild scrapped the red carpet, winner speeches and big acts (last year, Rita Moreno performed).

But serendipitous timing -- the event started hours after the announcement of a possible deal -- transformed the evening from a stilted cocktail reception into a rollicking party.

“It feels more appropriate,” “30 Rock” creator Tina Fey said. “I think there will be a lot of people getting liquored up before they go back to work.”

“I think we should be celebrating,” said screenwriter Terry George, a member of the negotiating committee, speaking over the din of chatter that filled the ornate theater. “Writers tend to write in isolation, and the sense of community and camaraderie that this has produced marks a new period for the guild.”


As writers gabbed in small circles, they repeatedly remarked on the bonds forged as they walked the picket lines in often-frigid temperatures, penned in behind metal barricades. “I didn’t recognize you without all those layers of clothing!” one man called out to a blond woman.

“It’s refreshing to find people who are as neurotic as yourself,” noted feature writer Ben Mintz, as he chatted with Tom Purcell, a writer for “The Colbert Report.”

The program kicked off with a welcome from Michael Winship, president of WGA East.

“Tonight’s awards presentation will be a lot like the one the directors had a few weeks ago but with substantial improvements in key areas,” he deadpanned, drawing guffaws.


There were awards handed out (“Damages” won for best new television series, and “Juno” was named best original screenplay). But most of the night resembled a raucous stand-up comedy show as Meyers and other presenters cracked strike-related jokes to a receptive audience, many of whom were seated cross-legged on the theater floor.

“I think tonight we’re making a powerful statement by renting the same theater as last year but not having chairs,” said Triumph, the Insult Comic Dog, from “Late Night With Conan O’Brien.” “Standing up and milling around sends a message that we’re not afraid to network indoors, as well as outdoors! And we will keep networking until we have a deal we can be proud of!”

One difference from last year’s ceremony, noted Meyers: “We have an open bar. All the drinks are free and, we apologize for this, you will have to watch a 30-second ad.”

The quips were met with whoops and laughter from the crowd, but the reaction turned positively uproarious when Meyers introduced writer Nikki Finke, whose avid coverage of the strike on her website Deadline Hollywood has occasionally been interrupted because she said the workload was wearing her out.


Instead of Finke, out came comedian Rachel Dratch, coughing as she shuffled across the stage in a fuzzy blue-and-white polka-dotted bathrobe.

“Health status report coming soon,” she croaked. “Stay tuned!”

“I don’t know how to tell you this, Nikki, but the reason we brought you up here is that we wanted to let you know that if indeed the strike is over, none of us are ever going to go to your website again,” Meyers said, as the audience cheered.

“There’s more fallout from the shakeup at New Line Cinema! Jennifer Connelly is ankling ICM!” shouted Dratch, dissolving into a coughing fit.


Even Walter Bernstein, the 88-year-old screenwriter of such movies as “Fail Safe” and “The Front,” offered a tart response when he was recognized as “one whose contributions have brought honor and dignity to writers everywhere.”

“If I’ve had anything to do with bringing honor and respect to writers, I apologize,” Bernstein said. “I think the last thing writers need is honor and respect. What they need is money.”

As the jovial crowd headed out into the night, Meyers, holding a mug bearing the title “World’s Best Striker,” a recognition of his constant presence on the picket lines, pronounced the evening a success.

“I think it’s very important for people at the WGA to see everybody not looking freezing and walking in a circle,” he said. “And to realize that after what was a very abnormal time, there will be normalcy again, for everybody.”