Editor’s note: This article previously reported that Disney CEO Bob Iger was at the company’s Upfronts today in New York City, based on eyewitness accounts from outside the venue. The executive was not in New York on Tuesday, and references to him have been removed from this story. We regret the error.
It was a tale of two coasts today as WGA strikers and their allies targeted Disney’s initial presentation in New York as well as the company’s Burbank lot in Los Angeles. And the two scenes were very different.
This morning at Disney from the start, pickets were held two blocks from the venue on 10th Avenue. Here is the view to the south from the main entrance:
On Tuesday afternoon, initial guests in jumpsuits and power skirts shared the sidewalk with protesters holding up signs wearing union T-shirts outside the Javits Convention Center on Manhattan’s West Side. Some guests brushed off protesters by marching down the street. But no one streaming into Disney’s presentation under the eyes of NYPD officers and private security guards could avoid at least a little contact with the strike.
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A member of the WGA spotted Michael Gelman, the producer of ABC Living with Kelly and Mark, a behind-the-camera figure famous for being constantly checked on and occasionally summoned to set with exasperated shouts of “Gelman!” by the show’s exciting first host, Regis Philbin.
A few arrivals on Tuesday accepted union flyers as they walked past a picket line they were asked not to cross, and some smiled at a marcher who regaled them with friendly words: ‘Thank you, outspoken people , for your support ; we feel your positive energy. … Spend those ad dollars wisely. … You look fantastic! It’s your Met Gala.
The afternoon march, which started with around 100 people and more than doubled at its peak, got a boost from a visiting union boss. Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, which has 1.7 million members, kicked off the protest with a five-minute stemwinder she delivered through a megaphone, her eyes often closed and her voice becoming hoarse.
“Teachers love great writers,” Weingarten began. “Teachers make great writers. Teachers live for great writers.
She praised “film and TV and late night writers” for keeping viewers engaged, and she credited their work for providing vital solace and hope in the darkest days of the pandemic. . “It really saved people,” she said.
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“So how in the…let me not curse; remember, I’m a teacher,” she laughed. “So how come the core of what built this industry right now, the core of what this industry is, gets forgotten when it’s time to give that core a living wage?”
“Streaming and new technology are creating wider access. That should mean higher salaries for writers, not lower salaries,” she said, drawing shouts and applause.
Several hours before Disney left, dozens of picketers gathered outside ABC Studios on the Upper West Side during a taping of Viewthe popular morning talk show airing on Disney-owned ABC.
Among the walkers was one who sold his first script at the time of a WGA strike in 1973 and was in the strike guild in 1981, 1985 and 2007: Andrew Bergman, who conceived and co-wrote the parody of the 1974 cowboy film. Blazing Saddles with fellow New Yorker Mel Brooks.
Bergman went on to write several more comedy films, including The in-laws (1979) and Fletch (1985). He wrote and directed Honeymoon in Vegas (1992) and Striptease (1996). Unlike writer-director Brooks, Bergman was not an actor, which may explain the unofficial title that appears in his online biographies: The Unknown King of Comedy (from a 1985 film new York magazine profile).
He was a fairly low-key presence on Tuesday in sunglasses and a black WGA/AFL-CIO baseball cap, even with a bright green neon marker picket sign that read “Discontent making ‘CONTENT’.” As the morning walk ended, Bergman spoke with Hollywood Deadline and gave a brief description of the position, as he understood it, of the network and studio executives the writers are striking against: “They want all the money.”
Bergman recalled hearing Les Moonves, the head of CBS, once complain that the writers’ demands would “break the business.”
And at the end of the year, he gave himself a $60 million raise,” Bergman said.
Bergman said writers getting into film and television today have a harder time than him. “The business I got into no longer exists,” he says. “But even by that standard, it’s bad.”
He said he wouldn’t be surprised if, after this strike ended, the writers had to start again in a few years. He said he would also be on that picket line, “if I still walk the dirt.”
In LA, meanwhile, the turnout was big and rowdy outside the legendary Burbank studio door. About 300 picketers — including members of the Asian American Writers Committee, Black Writers Committee and SAG-AFTRA — made noise, sometimes singing and dancing.
Among them was The price of the big door actress Gabrielle Dennis, who told Deadline, “I have so many writer friends and they’re the writers who help me do my work. They’re the pages that I can bring to life.
Actor David Brown, of Freevee’s Legal Departmentechoed the sentiment, saying, “There are no shows without writers, no ideas without writers, and no future for this industry without writers.”
Bruce Helford, showrunner of Lopez vs. Lopez And The Conners stated that he had been a member of the WGA for 40 years. “It’s about the future of young writers. They have opportunities to have careers that will support their families,” he told Deadline. “So we have to be here and we have to be here for as long as it takes to fix this.”
Kristina Woo, chair of the Asian American Writers Committee, put it more succinctly. “We are fighting for the existence of the writing career as a profession,” she said.