Dispatches From WGA Picket Lines: Rob Lowe, Damon Lindelof, Courtney Kemp, David Goodman, Tony Kushner Hit Streets On Day 1 Of Writers Strike

UPDATED with latest: Day 1 of the Writers Guild strike hit Los Angeles and New York with full force Tuesday, with 10 picket lines in front of Hollywood studio lots and another in Manhattan outside Peacock’s NewFronts presentation.

Keep checking back as we update from on the ground.

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At Amazon Studios‘ home at Culver Studios, writer-creator Damon Lindelof was on hand, carrying a sign that read “Alexa Will Not Replace Us” – a nod to the AI portion of the negotiations between the guild and the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers. (Lindelof’s current show he co-created with Tara Hernandez, Peacock’s Mrs. Davis, centers on an evil AI.)

RELATED: WGA Strike Photos: Stars, Writers, Showrunners & Their Supporters On The Picket Line

“I think that from a from a perspective of the writer, we just want to make sure that we’re all on the same page — that AI is going to be used as a tool for everyone not as a replacement,” he told Deadline. “I’m sure that if someone said to Jeff Bezos or David Zaslav, or, you know, or Bob Iger, ‘Hey, an artificial intelligence could do your job. It could make decisions about what movies to greenlight and not to greenlight or who to hire and fire,’ they would find that incredibly offensive, and they’d want some kind of protection to make sure that that wasn’t going to happen. So I don’t think it’s unreasonable to get some language of understanding.”

RELATED: Dispatches From WGA Picket Lines Day 2: ‘SNL’s Bowen Yang, Krista Vernoff, Michael Schur, Cynthia Nixon Among Those Marching To Support Writers Strike

The picket lines in New York for the Peacock Newfront ended for the day around 6:30pm ET.

The Simpsons showrunner Al Jean told Deadline all writers are in the same boat. “It’s important for all of us to get a share of streaming because that’s what the future is [and] the way that the contract is written doesn’t take that into account. I think it’s all designed to get more work for less money, writing things for free.  We’ll hold out until we get what’s fair to the average writer, no matter what,” he said.

New York is also the center of the late-night universe. Josh Gondelman, who was a writer on Last Week Tonight with John Oliver and Desus & Mero, told Deadline, “Think about the shows that are not going on TV tonight. The Tonight Show, [Late Night with] Seth Meyers, The Daily Show, that’s just New York. That hits right away. That’s just what happens when writers can’t write words to appear on television and film. We came to negotiate in good faith. We want our membership to get back to work. We are not trying to be out on the streets of New York screaming at a bank forever.”

One writer for The Daily Show highlighted the issue of comedy/variety in the new streaming age, where writers are currently no covered under the MBA. “One of the biggest sticking points for us is having minimums in streaming because streaming is television, our shows are on streaming, some of them exclusively exist on streaming, and we just want basic protections that you have in standard television for streaming. Because that is where the industry is going, has gone for the past few years. It’s an existential fight for writing as a career,” they said.

Gabriel Sherman, who wrote on The Loudest Voice, which was based on his book, as well as ABC’s Alaska Daily, pointed to the problems surrounding mini-rooms. “It’s breaking the old model for the TV writer’s room, where you have writers writing during production. Now, the studios want a couple of writers to break a show in a mini-room, write the scripts then greenlight it and then keep one writer around for production and post. That is not a way to have a career. This is what they want, to turn the economy into a gig economy. It will be Uber for everything.”

Around 100 people were at the Culver Studios lot, where spirits were high. Protesters walked all the way from the studio entrance to the Culver Steps and back. Chants had a lot to do with Amazon/Alexa, including “Alexa, pay us.” They were also scoffing at any Teslas that left or entered the lot, often remarking something to the effect of “I bought that.” One sign even said, “I Bought Your Tesla.”

RELATED: Deadline’s Full WGA Strike Coverage 

At Universal in Universal City, WGA West picket signs traversed all three entrances of the studio, including the MTA crosswalk bridge over Lankershim Boulevard to the main theme-park gate.

Among the visible picket signs: “Nope” (a knock on the Universal horror film), “No Waystar” and a homemade Baby Yoda sign that screamed “AMPTP This Is Not the Way” (a riff on Disney+’s The Mandalorian).

Among the protesters was WGA strike captain and Oscar-nominated Moneyball scribe Stan Chevrin, who was also on the picket lines during the 2007-08 strike.

“It’s a much more committed membership than it was 2007,” said Chevrin, content with the first day’s turnout. “The issues are far more clearer: It’s all about revenue. 2007 was about jurisdiction which is harder to explain.”

Curtis Kheel who wrote on Devious Maids and Why Women Killed agreed: “The solidarity on this strike is better than it was on the last strike.”

The biggest problem to be solved, per Kheel: “The mini-rooms are a plague and a lot of us are working for scale, even though I have 20 years of experience in that. And it feels like to me that the system hasn’t changed with streaming.”

One WGA protestor, who asked not to be named, believes the strike will go until the end of June, and that it’s in the best interest of the guild to negotiate up until the DGA and SAG-AFTRA contract expirations at the end of June. “This is going to be a long haul,” the writer said.

At Paramount in Los Angeles, Rob Lowe was among the protesters on the picket lines, walking alongside series creator and WGA negotiating committee member Mike Schur. “We’re only as good as the writing we get,” Lowe said.

Also on the Melrose Avenue lot, former WGA president David Goodman, a co-chair of the negotiating committee, grabbed a sign.

At Sony in Culver City, about 100-200 protesters were on hand, including several SAG-AFTRA members marching in solidarity. Among the signs seen the crowd: “No pages without fair wages,” “Raise your hand if you’ve been personally victimized by mini rooms” and “Once upon a time…writers could make a living wage in Hollywood” — stylized like the Once Upon a Time in Hollywood movie poster.

There were lots of honks of support from cars driving down Culver Boulevard past the Motor Avenue gate.

In Century City, the Fox lot is seeing more than 150 picketers gathered on the corner of Pico Boulevard and Motor, without much chanting but with lots of support on display from honking motorists. There were a couple of dogs on site, and the atmosphere was generally light and upbeat, as one nearby biker driving through blasted Bill Withers’ “Lovely Day.”

Picket slogans varied from the more serious (“Which Side Are You On?”, “Writing Is A Job Not A Hobby,” “Stand With Working Class Creators”) to the more tongue in cheek — among them, “AI has no soul,” “It’s giving corporate greed,” “Nobody puts the WGA in a corner” and “Our Apartments Are Mini Rooms too.” Others included “Eat Bob Iger” and “Fuck Zaslav to the Max,” “Insert ChatGPT Joke Here!”, “We Just Want 2% From The 1%” and “TAKE THE NOTE.”

Among the picketers was Betsy Thomas, the WGA West’s secretary-treasurer, who said she felt the studios are “devaluing writers in every area, and in every area they exhibited a real lack of at best understanding and at worst interest in changing the situation.”

RELATED: Deadline’s Full Strike Coverage 

At Netflix in Los Angeles, more than 200 protesters took to the picket line just after 1:30 p.m., chanting “Hey Netflix, you’re no good. Pay your writers like you should” as the group picketed at the main gate on Van Ness Avenue. It then marched around to Gower Street.

At Disney’s headquarters in Burbank, writers were getting their steps in, walking the entire block around the main lot, from the gate at W. Alameda Avenue down Buena Vista Street and left on Riverside Boulevard in front of ABC. An estimated 300-400 people on hand under sunny skies, grabbing some of the 100s of signs dropped off by a worker driving a rented van.

Also on the ground was Home Economics co-creator and co-showrunner John Aboud, who picketed Disney during the 2007 strike, too. He said he didn’t think there was going to be a strike this year.

“The tone and the tenor of everything was incredibly different in 2007. It really felt like a collision with an iceberg. It felt inevitable. This did not feel inevitable. I didn’t think we had to be here. I didn’t think this had to come to a strike. But when I saw the counter [by the AMPTP], I was really stunned how many of the [negotiating points] did not receive a response. No counter. I was shocked. Complete failure to engage. I felt like all bets were off. If that’s really how they want that go, that’s how they want to go.”

He added that “WGA has a done much better job of being on message and being very disciplined in terms of getting stories out that reveal the life of the average writer. I don’t think that was the case in ’07. This year has been flawless.”

Around 400 people were at Burbank’s Warner Bros. Discovery headquarters. Highlight: protesters were singing “Baby I Want My Money” to the tune of the Ol’ Dirty Bastard song.

Erin Berry, an executive story editor on network comedy Last Man Standing, told Deadline on the Warner Bros Discovery picket line that mini-rooms are particularly hampering progression of younger writers.

At CBS Television City on Fairfax Avenue and Melrose Avenue, Power creator Courtney Kemp was among the protesters. “We are striking to protect writing as a profession, and for a fair share of the profits we create,” she said. Another picketer: Justine Bateman.

At the CBS Radford lot in Studio City, about 400 protesters marched back and forth along Ventura Boulevard and the gate on Colfax Avenue; no one was allowed to picket in front of the main gate on Radford Avenue. Among the strikers was longtime sitcom writer Jeffrey Richman, a six-time Emmy winner whose credits include Modern Family and Frasier. He’s been through three strikes: the one in 1981, the one in ’07, and this one. He’s currently working on the second season of Uncoupled, which moved to Showtime from Netflix.

“I come from literally 40 years of network television. I’m now on a streaming show — I don’t know how writers make a living. I made my living so I can afford to do eight episodes on Uncoupled. Middle-class writers used to be able to support a family, you used to be able to be on Wings or Coach or some mid-level show that had still had 24 episodes a season. And you learned how to produce television. You were on sets and you were involved in casting. None of that exists for writers now.”

“There’s no middle class of writers. There’s zero middle class. So I’m not striking for me, it’s for everybody that can’t get a job.”

PREVIOUSLY: 12:24 pm: Hours into WGA’s first strike in more than 15 years, writers took to the streets in New York to picket the Peacock NewFront presentation.

After starting off with a few dozen participants, the crowd at 415 Fifth Avenue swelled to nearly 300, wrapping around the block. In the shadow of the Empire State Building, picketers waved signs, shouted slogans like “no writing / no TV!” and chanted along with prompts from a bullhorn: “What do we want? Contract! When do we want it? Now! If we don’t get it / shut it down!” An inflatable rat deployed by unions around the city as a way of bringing unwanted attention to an employer stood watch on the sidewalk.

Danny Strong
Danny Strong

RELATED: WGA Strike Explained: The Issues, The Stakes, Movies & TV Shows Affected — And How Long It Might Last  

The picket line drew a range of participants, with rank-and-file writers joined by some top names, including Tony and Emmy winner Tony Kushner and Emmy winner Danny Strong.

“This strike is fundamentally about fairness and writers need to be justly compensated for the content they write that is the very foundation of our employer’s profits,” Strong said.

Tony Kushner
Tony Kushner

Kushner told Deadline he was ready for a lengthy battle with the AMPTP. In 2007-08, he said, “They said the same things but they’ve gotten a little more creative since then. It’s the shortsightedness and the greed and the absolute indifference to the lives of the people that create the product that enriches them is really appalling. It’s disgusting.”

Meanwhile, inside the corporate event space, NewFront attendees checked in at a colorfully branded Peacock desk after maneuvering through the picketers. “Well, this is interesting,” one ad agency exec muttered before heading upstairs for canapés and cocktails before the presentation.

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