Programming

STRIKE COVERAGE: AFTRA Backs Ellen

AFTRA's Hedgpeth Calls WGAE Attack on DeGeneres 'Stunning Breach of Basic Inter-Union Courtesy' 11/10/2007 03:30:00 AM Eastern

The

American Federation of Television and Radio Artists

 late Friday stuck up for member Ellen DeGeneres after the

Writers Guild of America East

issued a press release

chastising the daytime talk-show host

and WGA member for working during the writers' strike.

Ellen DeGeneres

“As you know, AFTRA members such as Ms. DeGeneres who are working under the AFTRA Network TV Code (which covers The Ellen DeGeneres Show) are legally required by the no-strike clause of that contract to report to work and perform their AFTRA-covered responsibilities,” wrote AFTRA national executive director Kim Roberts Hedgpeth in a letter addressed to Mona Mangan, WGAE’s executive director. “Ms. DeGeneres, along with thousands of entertainment-industry workers represented by AFTRA and other unions who are bound by similar no-strike clauses, are also reporting to work as legally required.”

DeGeneres incurred the WGA's wrath when she returned to work Tuesday after skipping Monday’s show in support of the strike. Although she opened Tuesday’s show with a statement of solidarity, saying that she would not perform a monologue, the guild lashed out in a release Friday, claiming that DeGeneres was continuing to perform comedy in violation of the WGA strike: “Ellen said she loves and supports her writers, but her actions prove otherwise.”

In her letter to Mangan, Hedgpeth criticized the WGA for spurning AFTRA’s overtures of support and for publicly attacking DeGeneres:

“Mona, members of AFTRA have been on the line and struggling to provide their support to WGA members despite the stony silence of the WGAWest in returning AFTRA’s calls to offer help. As you know, AFTRA members in particular … have been among the first affected, since they have been put out of work as AFTRA-covered programs have been among the first to shut down. Still, regardless of the institutional political constraints of WGAW, AFTRA members are showing their union solidarity with their brothers and sisters in the WGAW and WGAE who are standing tall in their struggle to achieve a fair contract -- as all union members should.

If WGAE had concerns about the activities of this AFTRA member, we cannot fathom why we did not receive so much as a courtesy heads-up to discuss the situation and see what we could do to work together in support of WGA’s members. Considering that you and I were together on a conference call less than 24 hours ago to discuss how AFTRA and other unions in the AFL-CIO could assist WGAE at this time, this is especially distressing.

“An AFTRA member was made the target of an ad hominem attack in a news release without any of the communication between us consistent with professional and inter-union courtesy. At a time when all unions should be standing together, this stunning breach of basic inter-union courtesy is the kind of misstep that threatens to frustrate the solidarity of organized labor on a cause that we should all stand together, and stand up, for.”

Early Saturday, Mangan responded. "I was sorry to learn that you believe that the Guild erred in not consulting AFTRA before releasing our statement concerning Ellen DeGeneres.  I assure you that we have great respect for AFTRA, its members and staff, and we are deeply grateful for the generous support of the many AFTRA members supporting our strike by withholding their services and/or joining our picket lines and rallies."

Mangan said that while AFTRA had made a "spirited and deloquent defense" of DeGeneres' actions, it could not redeem DeGeneres' decision. "Beyond any issue of membership," she added, "there is the obvious ethical issue, which is clearly present in Ms. DeGeneres' decision to write and produce a show without writers in the face of an industrywide walkout by 12,000 writers." She pointed out that unions with narrower no-strike clauses had been able to help out. "As I indicated in the telephone conversation to which you referred," Mangan said, "it is not the Guild's intention to involve any union, such as your own, in our efforts to encourage individuals to withhold their services. What we ask of them are acts of individual conscience."

DeGeneres' producers, Telepictures Productions, defended her in a statement released late Friday: "It is unfair and incorrect to compare The Ellen DeGeneres Show to late night shows such as Leno, Letterman and Conan, all of which are late-night network owned and controlled programming.

"Ellen is a daytime talk show carried on a syndicated basis across individual television stations, no different than, and in direct competition with, Oprah, Rachael Ray, Dr. Phil, Live with Regis and Kelly, The View, Martha, Tyra, Jerry, Maury and Montel, all of which are in first run daytime syndication and are continuing in production.

"Ellen has not done anything in violation of the Writer's Guild of America agreement, or the WGA's internal 'strike rules.'

Telepictures, through its distributor, Warner Bros. Domestic Television Distribution, has contractual obligations to continue to deliver original programming to the 220 stations that carry the program.

"We have asked Ellen to come back to work to fulfill her contractual obligation as host of the show because without original programs, the stations can move the show out of its time periods or ultimately hold the company in breach of contract.  The company, in turn, expects Ellen not to breach her contract to host the show. We also wish to preserve the 135 jobs of the staff and the crew whose livelihoods depend on the show continuing. We regret the Writer's Guild has chosen to strike and we wish for a quick resolution."

Warner Bros.’ Ellen and CBS’ Dr. Phil are the only syndicated shows that employ writers that are under guild contracts. Dr. Phil has not been affected by the strike. DeGeneres and Warner Bros. will have to make up Monday’s absence by delivering one original episode to TV stations.

For full coverage of the strike, click here.

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