In Depth

WGA East Picketers March at Rockefeller Plaza

Members of the Writers Guild of America, East, became tourist attractions on the first day of the strike over a new contract, because they were walking the picket line in one of the crossroads of the tourist world: Rockefeller Plaza in the middle of Manhattan.

A lane of 49th Street cattycorner from the tourist-magnet “Today” studio had been cordoned off to accommodate the writers—and the big inflatable rat New Yorkers are used to seeing in front of businesses embroiled in a labor dispute—and preserve space on the sidewalk for the throngs of people who were walking without signs in their hands.

It was the only picket line in Manhattan. The Canadian couple who had waited for two years for their tickets to “The Late Show With David Letterman” and planned their trip around the talk show saw no marchers, only undramatic Xeroxed notices on the door to Mr. Letterman’s theater, five blocks away from Rockefeller Plaza, that the “box office is closed until further notice.”

All of the late-night comedy shows were to start airing reruns Monday night.

A number of the passersby stopped to gawk or to take pictures of the picketers, especially when they recognized Pat O’Brien, co-host of “The Insider,” taping a standup for his syndicated entertainment magazine show and companion show “Entertainment Tonight,” or a familiar face making the long oval circuit inside the metal stanchions, including actor Ron Rifkin.

Late Monday morning, actor-writer-director Griffin Dunne was picking up a sign and joining the line. “Oz” writer Tom Fontana had arrived. “30 Rock” Emmy winner Tina Fey had been there.

J.R. Havlan “was accompanied by Charlotte, his 6-year-old shepherd-collie cutie, her black WGA T-shirt in a knot at her ribcage. It’s the first strike for “The Daily Show” writer and his dog.

Following the lead of a man with a megaphone, the marchers chanted, “No contract, no drama. No contract, no jokes” and “Hey, hey, ho, ho. Management can’t write that show.” Charlotte barked.

Mr. Fontana, Mr. Dunne and Mr. Havlan took reporters’ questions seriously.

“This is an important issue,” Mr. Dunne said of one of the most prickly questions, about writers getting a bigger share of the money made on their work when it is distributed on new digital platforms.

Mr. Havlan said the WGA membership will stay on strike for “as long as it takes” to get a contract that recognizes that he, for one, should be receiving a reasonable cut of the money being paid for the option of watching “The Daily Show” on download by “the annoying guy sitting next to me on the plane.”

Mr. Fontana said he had completed the script for the pilot to “The Philanthropist” but had only begun the script process for the other 12 episodes of the series ordered by NBC. Mr. Dunne has been working on “Truth in Advertising” for TNT.

Mr. Havlan said the strike isn’t all about them. It’s also about the people who will do what they do in the increasingly digital future.

Click here for complete coverage of the strike.

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