I’ve been in the WGA for nearly 40 years. That means that during the first two decades of my TV writing career, I was on strike just about every three years. But the last time we struck was in 1988. That one lasted almost six months. It hurt the TV networks because they lost viewers they never got back. It hurt writers because most of us aren’t wealthy, and it’s difficult to go that long without earning a living. It even harmed people who aren’t in show business, but whose livelihoods depend on those who are.
A lot of civilians have no sympathy for our side because, one, they think we’re a bunch of overpaid hacks and, two, they think they could do what we do better than we do it if only they, too, had decided to fritter away their lives on such tomfoolery.
The fact is that most of the 12,000 members of the Guild are living hand-to-mouth because only a small percent of that number manage to sell a script or get a writing gig in any given year.
Until this past Monday, it had been 19 years since I walked a picket line. Moreover, it had been about 35 years since I walked one at CBS Studio Center on Radnor Avenue, in Studio City. Back then, I worked for Talent Associates, an independent production company responsible for the Rock Hudson-Susan St. James series, “McMillan & Wife.”
During that strike, the WGA had employed a campaign of divide and conquer. They invited production companies to keep their doors open and their cameras grinding by signing favored nations pacts with the Guild. That meant that they would abide retroactively by whatever terms the WGA and management ultimately agreed upon. In the meantime, this gave the companies a distinct advantage over their competitors, and hastened the day when their competitors would follow suit.
As a result, I found myself in the odd position, legally and morally, of not only crossing my Guild’s picket line twice a day, but of leaving my office every afternoon at 3 o’clock to take my turn on the line at the front gate and going back to work an hour later.
Mainly because I haven’t had much of a TV writing career once I foolishly tempted fate by turning 50 and partly because the majority of those 12,000 members only joined the WGA during the past 10 or 15 years, I didn’t recognize a single face when I signed in for picket duty the other day. It seems that the Guild had under-estimated the turnout. By the time I arrived, they had run out of picket signs. Still, I was assigned to join my fellow writers at the corner of Radnor and Ventura Blvd.