Dispatches from the picket lines of the writers' strike.

Dispatches from the picket lines of the writers' strike.

Dispatches from the picket lines of the writers' strike.

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Nov. 9 2007 5:15 PM

Coffee, Muffins, YouTube

The writers pull out the big guns for their strike.

"The Writers Strike: Why We Fight"—a four-minute YouTube clip posted by the Writers Guild of America—is a mighty fine piece of PowerPoint propaganda. After catching you up in the jingle-jangle guitar and Led Zeppelin high hat of its soundtrack, it delivers an outline of the Guild's reasonable demands in a tone that's chipper, light-handed, uncondescending, and utterly absent the Michael Moore style of spite one might expect. The producers mete out the bar graphs and pie charts judiciously, and choose their other visuals with similar care. For instance, to illustrate executive-suite perfidy, they flash a photo of NBC's Jeff Zucker, who's been captured mid-chuckle, as if he's just glanced at some boffo overnights for Deal or No Deal. Zucker's appearance here proves beyond all doubt that he has achieved iconic status as a network weasel. Congratulations to Jeff and the whole NBC-Universal family.

Not many of the other Web clips assembled by WGA strike captains this week carry the punch of "Why We Fight." Shot on Los Angeles picket lines, they constitute a video blog that's variously rambling and scattered. They could maybe have used some input from a good producer. For instance, a clip featuring the creator of Happy Days is most notable for its half-joking glimpse into the man's id and wounded ego: "Hi. I'm not Carl Reiner. I'm Garry Marshall, and I'm very proud to be here … ." Marshall reminisced about the five strikes that he'd survived, perhaps not doing the cause any favors by mentioning that, the last time around, "most of the Guild took up tennis."

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Street theater isn't really a writer's medium. Thus far, the most popular of the clips is "The Office Is Closed," which features writers and actors from the NBC comedy and captures a vibe that's part DVD extra, part public service announcement. While a number of these L.A. dispatches make striking look just a little too jolly—the snappy chants, the Grey's Anatomy stars walking the picket line in surgical scrubs, the Starbucks beverages—The Office crowd balances the need to be serious and the urge to clown nicely. Bitter comedy is what they do.

Their colleagues in New York, meanwhile, looked genuinely lousy yesterday afternoon outside the Time Warner Center. The chanting was slack, the bullhorns hazy, the picket signs scrawled with limply composed slogans—some invoking poets ("We want our words' worth." "We're not getting a whit, man."), others simply saying "On Strike." One WGA member ventured that more seasoned professionals were too self-conscious to try their hands at agitprop—"People are worried about writing something lame and getting made fun of by other writers"—and went on to lament his colleagues' inattention to form. "We can't really walk in a circle," he said. It's not that they weren't allowed to, but that they couldn't summon the ability. Under the L.A. sun, writers picket briskly in neat lines and tidy ovals. In Manhattan, they're lucky to approximate an amoeba.

The Time Warner Center sits at Columbus Circle, and blue-collar drivers—of city buses, of dump trucks, of Time Warner Cable vans—would supportively honk their horns as they chugged past. Further, it sits atop a mall, and the writers got less face time with their corporate colleagues than with shoppers on the way to Sephora. Joining the picket line were unionized actors, technicians, parking attendants, and people who make a lifestyle out of joining picket lines. A representative of the Internationalist Club of the City University of New York ardently clutched a sheet of fluorescent poster board. On one side, the sign pledged solidarity with the screenwriters; on the reverse, it advocated an end to imperialist wars and the release of Mumia Abu-Jamal; in his other hand, the student held a shopping bag from Zabar's. This was either a classic sighting of vintage Upper West Side liberalism or no one had told the kid that there was a really great Whole Foods right downstairs. Naturally, the writers tended to gather in clumps and cliques—soap veterans there, comedy kids on the other side—but they agreed that he was great material.

Troy Patterson is Slate’s writer at large and a contributing writer at the New York Times Magazine.