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WGA STRIKE: “Heroes” Cast and Crew take on The Company

by  in Movie News, TV News Comment
WGA STRIKE: “Heroes” Cast and Crew take on The Company
The cast and crew (and a fan) of “Heroes” assembled outside Universal Studios front entrance. From Left to Right:

Chuck Kim, Nora Kay Foster, Jack Coleman, Joe Pokaski, Dana Davis (front), Jesse Alexander (back), Sendhil Ramamurthy, Greg Grunberg, Dania Ramirez, Yule Case (“Heroes” Transmedia Department), Tim Kring, Some Dude (back) Adam Armus, JJ Philbin

All photos by CBR Staff Photographer Pinguino Kolb.

The holidays loom, and with each passing day it looks less and less likely that the WGA strike that has held the city of Los Angeles in its sway for the past six weeks will be resolved before the start of the new year. In addition to their regularly scheduled pickets, the striking writers have been organizing theme rallies big and small to galvanize the fan community and the rest of the industry since the strike began. Showrunner Tim Kring and the cast and crew of NBC’s “Heroes” proudly continued this tradition earlier this week with a “Heroes” picket event outside of Universal Studios, and CBR News was on the scene to bring you all the details.

Heroes fans came out in droves, from as far away as Utah, to picket with the stars. Cast members Jack Coleman (HRG), Sendhil Ramamurthy (Mohinder), Masi Oka (Hiro), Ali Larter (Jessica/Nikki), Greg Grunberg (Parkman), Christine Rose (Angela Petrelli), Kristen Bell (Elle), Dania Ramirez (Maya) and Dana Davis (Monica) flew the now familiar red and black WGA strike signs, as did Kring and members of the “Heroes” writing staffers like Jeph Loeb, Joe Pokaski and Aron Coleite. Pokaski and Coleite told CBR News that they hope to be back at work soon so they can resume the weekly BEHIND THE ECLIPSE feature here on CBR.

Chuck Kim & Dana Davis The fans came out to show their support.

“Heroes” story editor Chuck Kim was heartened by the public’s overwhelming show of support, despite the continued media bias concerning the strike. “Going into this, we didn’t really know how people would react,” Kim said. “Because the studios also own all the major networks, NBC, CBS, CNN, all the news networks, it was questionable how we would get out our views fairly. But luckily people seem to have heard our voices.”

For those who don’t know, one of the major sticking points in the contract negotiations between the Writers Guild of America (WGA) and the Alliance of Motion Picture Television Producers (AMPTP) is the residual formula for New Media. The internet is poised to one day become the most common way for consumers to enjoy the major networks’ scripted programming, and the writers want their fair share of the use and re-use of their work in that venue. But the writers aren’t the only ones who want a share of new media profits: New Media is also not covered in the AMPTP’s contracts with the other two biggest above the line unions in the entertainment industry, the Directors Guild (DGA) and the Screen Actors Guild (SAG). If the studios can convince any one of the big three unions to take an inequitable deal, they more or less ensure through pattern bargaining that the other two unions will fall into line. It just so happens that the writers’ contract was up first.

Greg Grunberg supproting the writers outside Universal. Even the little ones come out to show their support.

The DGA has remained largely neutral in the proceedings thus far, but SAG seems to realize that the fight the writers are fighting now is the same one the actors will have to fight when their contract expires in June of next year. “We’re all in this together,” said Greg Grunberg. “Unfortunately, the writers are taking the brunt of this, because their contract came up first. The producers know that, and I think what they’re going to do is try and break the writers, and they have to know that they’re not just dealing with the writers, they’re dealing with all of us, so we have to stand strong together.”

Grunberg characterized the AMPTP’s position on the issues “ridiculous.” “When a musician puts out a record that becomes a CD and then becomes an online digital download, they still make the same amount of money,” Grunberg said. “Why isn’t the same true for a writer?”

Over and above the realization that SAG and the WGA are fighting for the same thing, Jack Coleman also recognizes the writers’ contribution to the industry. “Those of us who are in the performing end of it know that without the writers there is nothing,” Coleman said. The studios are already streaming entire episodes of their prime time programming on their official websites, with commercials. The powers that be justify not sharing the ad revenue this generates with the writers by characterizing the re-use as “promotional,” but the rest of the creative community recognizes this for what it is. “What they’re showing on the internet is not promotional, it’s full programs with advertising,” Coleman said. “And I just think that it’s only fair and logical that when you create something and it is shown in all these different platforms, that you get a decent wage for it.”

Jack Coleman and Ali Larter sign a strike sign that was later given to the fan that traveled the furthest to attend the rally.

In television, writers literally run the show. Members of a show’s writing staff whose contributions to the show are not limited to the writers’ room are commonly called hyphenates, and these writer-producers have faced an unenviable dilemma since the strike began. The sooner the networks run out of new content to broadcast, the sooner they will be forced to give the writers a fair shake. But hyphenates refusing to carry out their producer duties are technically in breach of contract with the studios and subject to the repercussions.

The Company supports the writers? We have concerns! “Heroes” creator Tim Kring addresses the crowd.

“Heroes” showrunner Tim Kring is first and foremost a writer, so the choice of whether or not to cease and desist his producing duties was no choice at all. Fortunately enough for Kring, the structure of the show’s second season spared him the difficult decisions faced by many of his fellow showrunners. Before the second season of “Heroes” began, Kring opted to break the season into several volumes, rather than tell a single, sprawling, twenty-odd episode story arc like they did the previous year. For Kring, the timing of the strike couldn’t have worked out better if he’d planned it.

“We were 2/3 of the way through production on the last episode of volume 2 when the strike hit,” Kring said. “So on the day before we actually went out on strike, I was able to lock picture, meaning edit, episode 10. And episode 11 was directed by Allan Arkush, my longtime directing/producer partner who I’ve spent 500,000 hours in the editing room with, so I felt like it was in really good hands and I didn’t have to be there for it, so it allowed me to walk away without having to feel like I was really abandoning the show. A lot of shows were not in that position, they had multiple episodes in post, multiple episodes yet to film, and so I really felt for my fellow showrunners.”

Actors and writers of “Heroes” are mobbed by media and fans.
Masi Oka poses for a photo with two “Heroes” fans.

Kring admitted that he’d had higher expectations for a prompt resolution to the strike before the AMPTP walked away from the negotiating table yet again this past Friday. “Right now, my personal belief is that they’re not going to be talking to the writers for a while, they’ll go try and talk to the directors,” Kring said. “So, my guess is, we’re looking at another month of this before we’ll know anything, especially with the two weeks of holiday. But you never know, there might be some sort of backchannel discussions going, and we could all get a phone call tomorrow, so living with that uncertainty has become kind of a part of our life.”

Kring then addressed the crowd, calling this “an uncertain time.” “Like the rest of you, we’re sort of all waiting patiently to see where this is all going to shake out,” Kring said. Kring then presented a strike sign, autographed by the assembled cast and crew, to the fans who had come the furthest to picket with them that day. Kring then thanked the crowd encouraged them to “make some noise.”

Before joining the marching picketers, the “Heroes” cast sang some pro-union Christmas carols for United Hollywood and signed autographs for eager fans.

Despite their steadfast support of the writers’ cause, the cast and crew of “Heroes” do lament this year’s missed opportunities. “Every week that goes by, we lose another episode that we won’t be able to do this year,” Kring said.

“Heroes” writers and the stars of BEHIND THE ECLIPSE Joe Pokaski and Aron Coleite on the strike lines.
Jeph Loeb and Kristen Bell’s conversation is interrupted by a phone call.

Grunberg, too, wants nothing more than to get back to work. “I really think that as far as the second season goes, the show has really found its feet and it’s just cooking, and to stop now was a real shame,” Grunberg said. “And people are asking me, ‘Okay, so what’s going to happen?’ I have no idea, I haven’t even read a script, there are no scripts. It’s going to take some time, even when they do resolve this, the writers have to go back, and it’s going to take at least a month for them to get all the scripts together and have us cranking again. But we’re ready, hopefully [the AMPTP] will come back to the table.”

The “Heroes” picket wasn’t the only pro-writer initiative going on this past Tuesday: It was also the first delivery from the “Pencils 2 Media Moguls” movement. Spearheaded by United Hollywood and Strike Points, Pencils 2 Media Moguls called for TV fans to purchase boxes of unsharpened pencils for delivery to the six media moguls who run the major networks, as a symbolic gesture in support of the WGA’s Pencils Down campaign. The likes of WGA members Joss Whedon and “Battlestar Galactica’s” Ronald D. Moore accompanied a WGA van loaded with the 500,000 pencils donated thus far on a trip to each of the major studios to hand deliver the symbolic writing implements. Not surprisingly, security at both NBC and Disney studios refused delivery. But when the aggressive writers loaded two laundry carts full of unsharpened pencils and wheeled them up to gate #2 at Universal Studios, the studio got the police involved. Police officers proceeded to threaten to arrest the demonstrators for trespassing, including the fans who joined the picket lines for that day’s “Heroes” event. Ultimately, no arrests were made, and the undelivered pencils will be donated to charity.


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Discuss this story here on CBR’s TV/Film forum.

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