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Lessons learned as strike ends

Thursday, February 14, 2008 | 7:52 p.m. CST; updated 6:17 a.m. CDT, Tuesday, July 22, 2008

COLUMBIA – The picket signs are in the closet. The red carpet will unroll. America is turning the television back on.

The Writers Guild of America strike, which ended Tuesday after more than three months, delayed and canceled shows across the dial and imposed a diet of reruns and reality shows on viewers.

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And it won’t change just yet.

“It will be four to six weeks minimum before you start seeing new episodes of shows like ‘Grey’s Anatomy’ and ‘The Office,’” said Ken LaZebnik, visiting professor of film at Stephens College and a member of the Writers Guild.

LaZebnik was also among those writers who participated in StrikeTV.org, a Web site where they write, shoot and produce videos to raise money for the strike fund. Productions are supposed to air on the site in March.

Students in Stephens’ screenwriting classes have been getting an extra layer of education because they have studied the strike while they studied the craft.

“Hopefully the strike has offered a greater understanding of the necessity of the writers in the process,” said Kate Kogut, playwriting and screenwriting professor at Stephens College. “Writers certainly aren’t the only part of a complex collaborative process; however, they are an essential part.”

Although the screenwriting students have had more to do, the viewers have had less. Some appear to have turned to TV on DVD.

“We’ve sold a lot of TV box sets,” said Jon Hetheriton, store manager of CD Tradepost, at 1400 Forum Blvd.. “This time of year is always busy with the tax returns coming in, but there is a strong possibility that the strike had something to do with it.”

Janet Marsh, co-owner of 9th Street Video, did not see an abnormal increase in video sales at the downtown store, located at 25 S. Ninth St. Marsh said sales always go up in the winter and doesn’t think it had anything to do with the strike.

Some people’s habits have changed, however.

Once used to watching “The Daily Show” every day, retired occupational therapist Sherry Borcherding has a new routine. “Now I just read,” said Borcherding. “It’s just a half hour, but it’s nice to have something to wrap up the day.”

Not all writers participated in the strike for the duration. Late-night TV shows were able to come to separate agreements with the union and air original programming — some of it deemed below-par by viewers.

“It’s different, and if anyone expects it to be the same, clearly it’s not,” Marsh said. “But I prefer the last few weeks to none because I enjoy the personalities. They are inherently funny.”

Avid TV-watcher Jessica Cooper, a communications major at MU, had a stronger perspective on the strike and seemed to take it personally. “As someone who aspires to be in the industry, for me the strike was like a national war,” Cooper said. “I hard-core supported my countrymen. I wanted them to win. But I cried for the casualties. It was a long, cold winter.”


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