‘They’re taking my dad’s job away’

Chronicle Staff

Clare Bergman ’08 walked downstairs on a recent weekday morning to find her father, actor Peter Bergman of the soap opera “The Young and the Restless,” making an omelet breakfast for her.
Peter’s production schedule is arduous, and he is usually out the door by 6:30 a.m., before Clare is even halfway out of bed.

But a breakfast cooked by dad was out of the ordinary for Clare. As for the reason behind this unexpected development, Peter Bergman is at a loss for words. Literally. On Nov. 5, the approximately 12,000 members of the Writers Guild of America (WGA) began a strike that has already begun to drastically alter the lives of numerous members of the school community—perhaps indefinitely.
The strike is against the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers (AMPTP), an organization that represents the interests of film and television production companies and studios. Every three years, the WGA negotiates a contract with the AMPTP that keeps WGA members employed. A stalemate was reached in the contract negotiations, at which point the WGA membership officially authorized the strike.

The central issue of the strike is so-called “new media.” The members of the WGA are seeking greater compensation for broadband, on-demand and streaming video viewing of their shows.
Though the conflicting groups have been negotiating throughout the strike, talks ended contentiously last Friday, and a resolution seems unlikely until at least early 2008.

For most, the strike will have minimal impact beyond a TiVo playlist with more reruns and reality shows than usual. But for the children of the striking writers and countless other television crew members, the strike may soon begin to affect the quality of their lives.

The strike has put Clare and her family in what she calls a “difficult situation.”

“I understand why they are doing it, but they are taking my dad’s job away, ” Clare said.

CBS Studio Center on Radford Avenue in Studio City is a full-scale television production studio. Now CBS Studio Center is just another picketing zone, one of 15 throughout the Los Angeles area. Amy Shaughnessy’s ’08 mother Anne and Rebecca Contreras’s ’09 father Ernie often walk the picket line together on Radford.

Amy said that, with the holidays on the horizon, she is a little worried about asking for gifts. “Money isn’t so tight right now, but if the strike continues it could get worse,” she said.

For now, she says that the aspect of the strike she is most concerned about is her truncated television viewing schedule. “It sucks because I’m dying without ‘The Office,” she said.

An “emergency strike fund” has been established by the WGA for those hit hardest fiscally by the strike,  but only members who can prove that they are in serious financial jeopardy are eligible for aid, according to the WGA’s bylaws.

Rebecca feels that the WGA-AMPTP conflict shouldn’t have even escalated to this point.  “The writers aren’t asking for much. Striking shouldn’t be necessary over money that makes no real difference to the studios,” Rebecca said.

Carlton Cuse (Nick ’08, Caroline ’09) has been a high-profile figure throughout the strike. Cuse is the co-showrunner of ABC’s serial drama “Lost,” meaning that he serves as both a writer and producer for the show.  Though Cuse serves on the WGA’s negotiation committee, he recently decided to return to work on “Lost.” Cuse claimed that his duties as showrunner required that he continue post-production work on the show, though he recently apologized for his actions and vowed to continue his support of the strike in an e-mail to the guild.

Caroline says that her father is in an uncomfortable position due to the clash of his responsibilities as both producer and writer. “It’s hard for my dad because he’s torn between the two sides,” she said.
For her part, Caroline supports the writers wholeheartedly.

“I think the writers are fighting for a very important and legitimate cause,” she said. “The writers should get credit for their work regardless of where it is viewed.”

Still, she is eager for a resolution to the conflict.

“The studios and the writers need to compromise soon because the strike is taking a huge toll on a lot of individuals and families.”  

  ­­—Additional reporting by Mac Taylor

Related item: Podcast of English teacher Jeff Kwitney talking about his experience with the 1988 writer’s strike.