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‘Model’ Picket Protest Kaput

Oct 16, 2006  •  Post A Comment

Picketing “America’s Next Top Model” has gone out of fashion.

After more than two months of sidewalk protests that received national attention from the media and reality fans, staffers of The CW’s series who were striking for Writers Guild of America recognition have ceased marching in front of the “Top Model” production offices in Los Angeles.

Sources said the protesters have quietly turned in their picket signs and are now seeking new jobs. Their duties on “Top Model” have become the responsibility of the show’s editors.

The picket line was the vanguard effort in Hollywood’s first-ever reality show strike, with a dozen staffers and hundreds of WGA supporters helping in the protest. With the WGA entering contract negotiations next year, a seemingly failed “Top Model” strike will weaken the guild’s efforts to pull reality story editors into their tent.

The WGA said the protest folded Sept. 29 because the production went on hiatus, making a strike in front of the offices less relevant. The WGA also ceased compensating the staff from the guild’s strike fund, which is available only during periods that the strikers would otherwise receive pay.

“Picketing an empty building is not the best use of anybody’s time,” said Jody Frisch, a WGA spokeswoman. “We’re just fighting at a different level right now.”

Replied The CW spokesman Paul McGuire: “The offices are never empty.”

The WGA said the staff technically remains on strike and that the guild will continue to seek a National Labor Relations Board election to certify the WGA to represent the staffers. But the protesters do not plan to return once production resumes.

The striking staffers held a variety of producer titles and were responsible for crafting story lines. They walked off the show-which originated on the now-defunct UPN-July 25, midway through the production of the show’s seventh cycle and two months before the launch of “Top Model’s” new network home, The CW.

At first, media coverage was intense, with about 30 stories published within the first two weeks of the strike, according to news archive service Factiva. But as the weeks ticked by, the strike lost momentum and media coverage dropped off. The CW and producers remained unswayed by the protest, with the new “Top Model” season performing solidly in the ratings. An effort to codify WGA representation of the strikers with the National Labor Relations Board was met with a roadblock last month when “Top Model” producers filed a petition that derailed an election.

For an effort characterized by such savvy use of the media, the folding of the protest was a silent affair that has left some supporters confused.

“I don’t understand,” wrote a poster on the “Top Model Union” MySpace page last week. “Is the strike over or what?”