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Writers Use 'Net to Gain Edge in Strike

STEVE INSKEEP, host:

While the Broadway stagehands strike ended overnight, the Hollywood writers strike, though, goes on. The writers' representatives are still talking with the studios, and the writers are also talking about the studios on the Internet. They are using the same medium that's at the heart of the dispute.

And NPR's Kim Masters reports that the writers are winning the public relations battle.

KIM MASTERS: When writers aren't picketing, they have time on their hands. And they're putting it to use, generating dozens of videos and posting them online.

Unidentified Man #1: It's about whether writers should get paid when media company is making money using their work online.

(Soundbite of YouTube video)

Unidentified Man: (Singing) Writers Guild, WGA. We write the lines that the actors say. And the writer girls won't be ignored because we all know the pen is mightier than the sword. Yo, producers, what you're taking us for? A bunch of…

MASTERS: These videos can be found on Web sites like YouTube and LateShowWritersOnStrike.com. Some try to explain the issues; some are just funny; others try to convey the importance of writing. Actors including Harvey Keitel and Demi Moore have loaned their talents to videos meant to underscore that without writers, they have nothing to say.

This one features Holly Hunter who asks to discuss a script that she is about to shoot with a writer only to find herself connected with a technical support staffer in India.

(Soundbite of video)

Unidentified Man #2: To address your issue, PC's run many scripts, madam. What model do you use?

Ms. HOLLY HUNTER (Actress): I'm sorry. Maybe I'm not communicating here. Obviously, I'm talking about a film script, you know?

MASTERS: As the conversation continues, it becomes increasingly confused.

(Soundbite of video)

Unidentified Man #2: I'm sorry, madam. I'll have to refer you to level two support.

MASTERS: The writer's message seems to be getting through. A study by the Pepperdine University Business School showed that 63 percent of the public sides with the writers while only four percent supports the producers. That study has meant a lot to writers walking the picket line, like Saladin Patterson whose credits include the sitcom "Frasier." He says writers aren't striking over something easily grasped so he sent video links to former college classmates.

Mr. SALADIN PATTERSON (Writer, "Frasier"): So many of my friends were very well-educated people who just didn't understand what we're striking about, e-mailed me back saying, wow, that video really helped us understand what the issues are and helped us understand that you guys are really the little guy fighting against the big guy.

MASTERS: Jon Sherman who worked on the CBS show, "Rules of Engagement" says he e-mailed a link to his father-in-law in Northern California. And when his father-in-law's friends expressed the opinion that the writers are greedy, he was armed.

Mr. JON SHERMAN (Co-Executive Producer, "Rules of Engagement"): He was able to send them a link to that video. They watched it and were converted.

MASTERS: Sitcom writer Aaron Abrams(ph) says the videos have also won over associates who work behind the scenes on television shows and who were being hurt by the strike.

Mr. AARON ABRAMS (Writer): The more they see is not a bunch of a elites asking for extra frosting on their cupcake. The more they understand, the more people have come to our side.

MASTERS: The Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers has published some ads in newspapers, but it's been absent from the Internet.

Entertainment attorney Jonathan Handel says the AMPTP should have done a better job.

Mr. JONATHAN (Entertainment Lawyer): I think the difficulty for the companies is that they are stuck in an old media model, that sort of a commanded control approach which will set the message and will disseminate the message using traditional media - that's the end of it. And I don't think that works in the new world.

MASTERS: Back on the picket line, writer Jon Sherman agrees that videos are a weapon that the corporations simply don't know how to use.

Mr. SHERMAN: It's a response with a point of view that didn't have to go through committees, it didn't have to get approval, it didn't have to be managed and rewritten. And so it becomes something where we're very, very quick fighters.

MASTERS: NPR tried to ask the AMPTP about its public relations strategy; the call was not returned.

Kim Masters, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Kim Masters
Kim Masters covers the business of entertainment for NPR News. Her reports can be heard on NPR's award-winning Morning Edition, All Things Considered, and Weekend Edition. She joined NPR in 2003.

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