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Get ready for reruns: Writers hit the picket lines

  • Story Highlights
  • Writers want new media residuals protected
  • Late-night comedy shows to take immediate hit in writers' strike
  • "Daily Show" writer: "It's affecting us in the most visible way possible"
  • Scripted shows have stockpile through year's end
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NEW YORK (CNN) -- Viewers may have to get used to a steady stream of reruns now that television and film writers have gone on strike.

Members of the Writers Guild of America manned picket lines Monday morning outside NBC studios at Rockefeller Plaza, carrying signs and yelling, on the first day of the Writers Guild of America's strike against studios and production companies.

Late-night talk show and comedy shows, including "The Tonight Show with Jay Leno," "The Late Show with David Letterman" and "Late Night with Conan O'Brien," have announced they'll air reruns Monday night and until further notice. If the strike continues, it could affect soap operas and prime-time television programs as well.

"I support them," Leno said of the writers. "People get the wrong idea about how much writers make." Video Watch Leno back striking writers »

The writers' union says the strike, which began at 12:01 a.m. PT (3:01 a.m. ET), is necessary to protect their members' future incomes as the shows they write are increasingly distributed over new media, primarily through Internet downloading. A last-day effort to reach a new work agreement collapsed Sunday night despite the writers conceding a demand for a doubling of how much they are paid for DVD sales. This had been considered the major stumbling block to a deal.

"The DVD situation has always been a catastrophe," Warren Leight, the executive producer of NBC's "Law and Order: Criminal Intent," said Monday. But, he stressed, "At the moment, we have no piece of the Internet at all." Video Watch what's at stake »

While studios have been hoarding scripts for months in anticipation of a strike, some television shows that are more topical -- particularly late-night TV talk shows -- are expected to immediately go to reruns. Video Watch "30 Rock's" Tina Fey talk about the issues »

How you'll be affected

- Immediately: Late-night talk shows, which depend on topical material, will go to reruns

- In about one month: Daytime soap operas will go to reruns

- By January-February: Current prime-time shows will likely run out of fresh episodes

- Reality shows unaffected; Fox, with fewer hours to program and powerhouse "American Idol" returning in January, in best shape if strike continues, according to The Hollywood Reporter

- ABC has stockpiled several new shows, could put them on in midseason if strike persists

- TV networks have stockpiled TV movies

- Movie studios in decent shape for now

Sources: Forbes.com; The Hollywood Reporter

"It's affecting us in the most visible way possible," John Oliver, a writer and correspondent for "The Daily Show," told CNN on Monday as he stood amid the pickets, who carried signs that read "On Strike" and "Pencils Down." The group had also brought a large inflatable rat, which they had tethered to metal railings set up along the street.

"We're off the air," Oliver said. "We'd much rather work than stand in the cold. Writers are people who fear the sunlight," he added, smiling.

However, he said, the writers need new contracts that incorporate new media's impact.

"Clearly, revenue is being created" from new media, he said, "but we are not receiving any of it."

In Hollywood, California, writers marched Monday outside Paramount Pictures, carrying signs and shouting over traffic and honks from supporters. Dozens more picketed outside NBC studios in Burbank, Calif.

On Sunday night, the president of the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers (AMPTP) criticized the WGA negotiators for walking out of the talks.

"When we asked if they would 'stop the clock' for the purpose of delaying the strike to allow negotiations to continue, they refused," said AMPTP President Nick Counter.

The union's statement early Monday morning said that while it chose to withdraw its DVD proposal -- which they say would have doubled writers' residuals -- the studios and production companies were still insisting on a framework concerning Internet distribution that "makes a mockery of any residual," the statement said.

The WGA said producers want to deny the union future jurisdiction over scripts written for most new media and have offered no economic proposal for the parts of new media writing the guild wants covered.

Don't Miss

Other rules demanded by producers would give writers no residuals when a movie is streamed online or during a "window" when online consumers have free reuse of downloads, the WGA said.

Counter placed the blamed for the failed talks on the negotiators for the writers.

"We made an attempt at meeting them in a number of their key areas, including Internet streaming and jurisdiction in new media," Counter said.

"Ultimately, the guild was unwilling to compromise on most of their major demands."

While working writers are generally paid well, they depend on residuals to get them through often-frequent times of unemployment.

And, as video iPods and Internet downloads increasingly supplant traditional television and movie theaters, writers confront a changing industry.

Reality television has been another wake-up call for writers, since most do not require scripts. "American Idol" and other hit shows should not be affected by a prolonged strike.

AMPTP said that 67 percent -- 64 of 96 -- television series this season are scripted, down from 81 percent just two seasons ago.

Late-night television hosts like David Letterman, Jay Leno and Jimmy Kimmel, as well as programs like "The Daily Show," are feeling the pinch of the strike first. Because of their topical nature, networks do not typically shoot these shows in advance.

Daytime soaps normally stockpile about 30 days in advance and most prime-time shows would likely make it through the end of the year without any major impact on programming.

A spokeswoman for the guild, Sherry Goldman, told CNN on Monday that the strike would not affect news divisions.

But networks would have to resort to reruns, news programs and reality shows to fill the schedule in 2008 if a strike were to drag on.

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If the strike lingers, the WGA faces the danger of writers opting out of full membership for "financial core" status, which would allow them to return to work. They would lose their voting privileges, but retain all benefits.

The last WGA strike 20 years ago lasted five and a half months. It cost the entertainment industry an estimated $500 million. E-mail to a friend E-mail to a friend

Copyright 2007 CNN. All rights reserved.This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. Associated Press contributed to this report.

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