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Writers Swap Post-Picket Punch Lines

April 03, 1988|BOB POOL | Times Staff Writer

The biggest line last week was in Burbank, where hundreds of striking writers picketed over residuals.

The best line was in Studio City, where some of the strikers relaxed afterwards in Re$iduals.

Residuals are payments that writers receive when TV shows or movies they have written are rebroadcast. Re$iduals is a show-business bar on Ventura Boulevard, whose co-owners include four writers.

"The public will become aware there's a strike on, and they're missing something when they start seeing reruns on TV--and it isn't even summer," said striker Pat McCormick, who has written for many television productions, including the "Tonight Show."

"We writers will know we're missed when we see our pictures on milk cartons. Of course, by then, we probably won't be able to afford to buy one at the grocery," he said.

Strike Issue

McCormick, of North Hollywood, was one of a dozen or so writers who stopped at Re$iduals after Tuesday's picketing. He said he was drowning his sorrows in 7-Up: "I gave up drinking booze when my liver started showing up on airport metal detectors."

The largely anonymous movie and television writers have been on strike over improved residual payments and other issues. Their Writers Guild of America is targeting 200 production companies represented by the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers.

McCormick said he has received residual checks for as little as 4 cents. "I got another little one the other day for a movie I did called 'Gidget Infects Arkansas,' " he said.

Across the bar, writers Parke Perine, Michael Hoey, George Kirgo and Stephanie Liss sat next to a glass case containing residual checks similar to McCormick's. Several of those on display were even worse: They were made out for the sum of "$0.00."

Hoey, a writer-director who lives in North Hollywood, said 900 writers from the San Fernando Valley picketed the NBC Television studios Tuesday in Burbank. He said each of the union's 9,000 members has vowed not to touch a script until the strike ends.

Old Reruns

"People are going to start seeing reruns so old that Mr. Carson has dark hair," said Kirgo, an episodic television writer who is West Coast president of the writers union.

Perine said little compensation sifts down to him when television series he has written for are sold and resold to cable TV companies and foreign broadcasters. "I think we're worthy of our own hire," said Perine, of Sherman Oaks.

Liss, of North Hollywood, said her goal in the strike is for writers to win more creative control over the way their stories are filmed. She said she has withheld scripts rather than sell them to studios that proposed major changes.

Nearby, novelist and screenwriter Harlan Ellison was passionate about that issue.

When one network executive likened writers to "toadies" who do what they're told and demanded unwarranted changes to scripts, "I went down the length of the table and punched out his lights," Ellison said. "So I didn't work on ABC for nine years."

In Hollywood, Ellison said, "everybody thinks they can write because they wrote a letter home to Mommy or wrote an essay or something. They go home at night--whether it's the producer or the line producer or the executive producer--and lie and say they rewrote the script today.

"You cannot know what it's like to work in this industry. It's like putting in time in the Egyptian House of the Dead. . . . The writer is always at the bottom of the rung."

These days, producers are the frequent butt of stories told around the Re$iduals bar by writers--who must be content during the strike with just telling jokes to each other.

"I heard this one the other night," said Craig Tennis, a writer and one of the bar's owners "What have you got when you have seven producers buried in sand to their chins? Not enough sand."

'Rewrites at the Bar'

Although business is on the writers' minds, there is little business taking place these days in Re$iduals, Tennis indicated.

"People used to do rewrites here at the bar," he said. "If a great line comes up here, it may pop up in somebody else's show. Writers are notorious thieves. Now we can't even take a meeting."

Tennis, an Encino resident who has written for the "Tonight Show," "Saturday Night Live" and "Late Night With David Letterman," said writers for such topical shows "will lose some of their momentum" if the strike is a long one.

His bar won't, though, Tennis said. "People drink in good times--and in times of depression," he said.

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