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WGA STRIKE UPDATE: Capitol Hill Hosts Comedy Debate

Writers for The Colbert Report , The Daily Show with Jon Stewart Take Sides of Writers Guild of America, Association of Motion Picture and Television Producers 1/23/2008 05:45:00 AM Eastern

With the help of a half-dozen or so out-of-work writers, the Writers Guild of America staged a comedy debate on Capitol Hill Wednesday on the serious subject of the ongoing strike against the Association of Motion Picture and Television Producers.

With the aid of a half-dozen members of Congress, the guild framed the issue as consolidated media companies that didn't want to split their $95 billion in profits with the writers who helped to create all of that high-value content. They were backed by a half-dozen legislators who took to the podium before the mock debate to express their support and even issue something of a threat.

If the strike is not settled in short order, said Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.), there is consolidation or copyright-targeted legislation Congress could consider.

Rep. Janice Schakowsky (D-Ill.) even wore a rabbinical-looking false beard in support of the striking writers, although it was actually a play on a joke by their back-to-work bosses. She joked, as photographers snapped away, that it might prove to be a "Dukakis" moment.

Nadler argued that while the studios made some $95 billion in profits last year, they weren't willing to give writers one-third of a penny per dollar for Internet play of their work. He also said that as media consolidation grows, so does the threat to the WGA.

Rep. Diane Watson (D-Calif.), whose district includes some major Los Angeles studios, said the entertainment caucus she heads planned to hold a meeting with the WGA the first week of February, adding that she supported the strikers and the show crews who are out of work, as well, and wanted to make sure that they had food on the table and a table to put it on.

The debate, moderated by former White House press secretary and The West Wing (the show) adviser Dee Dee Myers, played to a standing-room-only crowd in a House hearing room, with writers for The Colbert Report playing the part of AMPTP representatives (in suits) and The Daily Show with Jon Stewart writers playing themselves in more casual attire.

There were two additional writers who were planted in the audience and broke up the debate -- and the crowd -- briefly by unveiling pink-and-green T-shirts emblazoned with "Look at Me" and "I Have Valid Concerns" on them, mocking the protestors who occasionally break into Hill hearings.

The debate mixed the comic and serious. For example, the WGA made the point that unions are the reason why there are 40-hour work weeks and health benefits, and the mock AMPTP reps made the same point by arguing that the reason why China is "beating the Chinese-made pants" off the United States is child and slave labor, arguing that soon we'll be getting shows from them like According to Mao and Foot Bundling with the Stars.

The AMPTP side argued that producers had not said that writers shouldn't get a piece of Internet revenue, but that the medium was still a baby, "and babies don't make money." "Mine does," chimed in another "producer." "He's head of programming for Fox."

On the serious side, the writers for both shows said they were "dipping deep" into savings, and Colbert's writers added that there were no hard feelings, that Colbert and Stewart had been supportive of them and the strike and that they would go back to work in a minute. “They’ve done everything they can, and it would be a pleasure to go back to work for them,” Colbert writer Tom Purcell said.

On the resuming of informal talks, Michael Winship, head of WGA East, said he remained hopeful that informal talks would lead to formal talks and eventually to a contract. He also said he thought the approaching Oscars telecast could provide some impetus to negations. The studios use the show to help boost box office for their films, but without a deal, Screen Actors Guild members have been told not to attend.

"Here's the ending we'd like to pitch to the writers’ strike," Daily Show writer Jason Ross wrapping up the debate from the WGA said. "We sit down, we work out a deal that pays writers fairly for Internet and all uses. Everyone goes back to work, the Oscars are saved, millions of dollars in financial damage repaired and a new era dawns between producer and creator."

"I like that, I like that, I have a couple of notes," the AMPTP side shot back.”You guys need to be more likeable. Maybe give you guys a bird on your shoulder, or a disabled friend, but not too disabled."

For full coverage of the strike, click here.

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