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Published: Friday, 2/15/2008

Back to the grind; Hollywood writers get back to work after 3-month strike

BY DAVID GERMAIN
ASSOCIATED PRESS
<i>CSI: NY</i> executive producers Pam Veasey and producer Trey Callaway lead the staff in a brainstorming session for new episodes. <i>CSI: NY</i> executive producers Pam Veasey and producer Trey Callaway lead the staff in a brainstorming session for new episodes.
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LOS ANGELES - Euphoria over returning to work quickly gave way to workaday cold sweats as Hollywood writers resumed the daily grind of cranking out scripts after a three-month strike.

"I felt giddy," Craig Sweeny, a writer for the NBC drama "Medium," said about being back on the job Wednesday, a day after the Writers Guild of America overwhelmingly voted to end the walkout. "Then someone handed me a production schedule, and then I felt scared."

TV writers face tighter deadlines than usual to salvage what's left of the season for shows that went into reruns because of the strike that started Nov. 5.

On its first day back, the crew at CBS' "CSI: NY" scrambled to start pounding out two scripts from scratch in two weeks, about half the usual time, so new episodes could premiere in early April.

Executive producer Pam Veasey tossed out a story premise for one episode: "There's a fire, and it's clearly arson."

Under such a tight deadline, the writing crew had little time to readjust to work after so much time off.

"It was like we were all sent to a really weird summer camp for three months, but now we're able to come home," writer Samantha Humphrey said.

Added colleague Peter Lenkov: "We want to deliver something good to thank the audience for sticking with us."

Dates were announced Wednesday for some series to return to the air, among them CBS' "How I Met Your Mother" on March 17, NBC's "My Name Is Earl" on April 3 and NBC's "The Office" on April 10.

While many TV writers were back at work, their counterparts for big-screen films were gradually easing into it, pitching new scripts and resuming meetings on screenplays left in limbo because of the walkout.

"We got calls last night to our agents saying, 'Let's get back to work,'" said Derek Haas, who co-wrote "3:10 to Yuma" and met Wednesday with the director of a summer blockbuster he and writing partner Michael Brandt had begun revising just before the strike started.

"Deuce Bigalow: Male Gigolo" screenwriter Harris Goldberg said he was thrilled his phone was ringing again as development executives checked in with him on an idled TV pilot and movie script he wrote.

"After complete silence for three months, I got maybe six or seven calls from people saying, 'Let's go, let's get together, let's get the ball rolling,'" Goldberg said.

The sudden collegial spirit was in contrast with the darkest days of the strike after talks between writers and producers broke down in early December. For more than a month, all both sides did was trade insults, until top studio executives stepped in and negotiations resumed.

Meanwhile, reality shows and repeats ruled prime-time TV, and most late-night comics had to come up with their own jokes. The Golden Globes were canceled because stars refused to cross writers' picket lines.

Film production went on generally unaffected because of the longer lead time for big-screen shoots. Yet a few major films - such as Ron Howard and Tom Hanks' "Angels & Demons," a follow-up to "The Da Vinci Code" - were delayed until writers could touch up scripts.

Even now, labor uncertainty lingers. Contract talks loom for the Screen Actors Guild, and while many in Hollywood are optimistic that actors will reach a deal, they could walk off the job after their agreement expires June 30.

Writers returned after guild leaders and producers came to terms on a key sticking point - compensation for shows and movies distributed over the Internet. Guild members are expected to ratify the contract in voting over the next 10 days.

Along with the 10,500 writers who walked out, the strike immobilized thousands of technicians, makeup people and other production workers. The Los Angeles Economic Development Corp. estimates the strike cost the local economy $3.2 billion in lost wages and revenue.

New scripts are likely to flood studio offices in the coming weeks. It will be a buyer's market, so studio executives may not be in any rush to snap up scripts, said agent Toochis Morin, a partner in the Brant Rose Agency.

"They'll be able to sit back and have the pick of what they want," Morin said.

While writers put in long hours on picket lines, plenty of work presumably got done on scripts they hoped to shop around once the strike ended.

"The dirty little secret is, I suspect, people have been working much of this time," said Phil Johnston, who had just started writing a TV pilot for NBC when the walkout began. "I, at least, have been writing almost every day in the exact same way I was - not necessarily on the studio projects I was paid to write, but I've been working on my own stuff all along."

Despite the financial hardship it brought, the strike was not all bad, some writers said. People who usually lock themselves in a room with a handful of colleagues or scribble away on their own at home were out socializing with one another daily as they walked the picket lines.

"There's a silver lining to it. It was a rare chance for writers to meet each other face to face," said Brian Sawyer, whose TV pilot with writing partner Gregg Rossen was on hold during the strike. "We made friends out there. But we don't know yet if they're real friends or just strike friends."

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Associated Press writers David Bauder and Jake Coyle in New York and Sandy Cohen, Raquel Maria Dillon, Lynn Elber, Christy Lemire, Ryan Pearson and Solvej Schou in Los Angeles contributed to this report.

AP-CS-02-14-08 0556EST



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