Bill Scheft, who still answers his phone “Late Show Strike Captain,” has been a writer for David Letterman since 1991. His latest novel, Everything Hurts, will be published next month by Simon & Schuster.
First of all, I am not thrilled following all the thoughtful “One Year Later” contributors with their facts, figures, historical perspective, and insight. But it could be worse. I could be in Burbank, following Leno at 10 pm….
A few months ago, I called the WGA East offices to check on the status of some overdue residuals (No, not those. Other overdue residuals.) I left a message for the comptroller with the receptionist, and before I hung up, matter of factly asked, “So, the picket line is 12PM-4PM in front of Viacom tomorrow?” She muttered something like, “Via-who?” and when I began to explain the reference, she stopped me and said, “I’m new.”
Hard to believe it’s been a year, and I don’t say that because I still have 10,000 pencils in my office that Les Moonves’ secretary would not sign for. That said, it’s only been a year, the last six months during which the country has been in economic peril. So, for now, measure the success of the strike by the health of the union which emerged after the strike. WGA East is stronger, more efficiently run, and unquestionably more connected with its membership. We have maintained the strike captains. (Although we are looking for new titles. My suggestion, Kontract Kommandant, was voted down.) And try to stay in touch with our team members with any guild news or events. Our goal is for every new East member to be assigned a Kommandant, uh, captain.
In addition to the earnest receptionist, there is new administrative leadership in place (Executive Director Lowell Peterson, Assistant Executive Directors Ruth Gallo and Marsha Seeman, and Business Agent Geoff Betts) which has been accessible and attentive. People who call you back. Hard to believe such mythical creatures exist in show business.
And speaking of people who don’t get back to you, I give you the AMPTP, currently in reruns with SAG. Our strike will be judged more realistically in the sober light of the next contract or maybe the one after that. Until then, two things to consider. With the undeniable foothold that surfaced from our action, we stopped the shameful tradition of labor rollbacks that began with the air traffic controllers in the early 80s, and we created movement in the New Media where we’d been greeted with whimsy and condescension. It is far from perfect, far from filled in, but so is Jeff Zucker’s hairline.
The best definition of success I ever heard was “service plus faith”. Last spring, less than two months after the strike ended, Tom Fontana and Chris Albers organized a memorable writers workshop with veterans in Ohio. Three months later, I got my hip replaced. Where I limped for so long, I now walk pain-free. I am not anxious to test it in a circle in front of Viacom years from now, but I will if I have to. And they know it.
UPDATE: I just got a call from Late Show head writers Justin and Eric Stangel. They had no idea the strike was over and continue to send pizzas to the sidewalk in front of the Time-Warner Building.