The CW, which was formed early this year from the old UPN and WB networks, is planning to launch its inaugural season September 20, with Model as its flagship program. For the CW, the summer months are its picking season, when its new Model episodes should be written. But if the network now finds itself under the gun, there’s also enormous pressure on the WGA, which was blind-sided by the emergence of the explosively popular reality-TV format, in the same way it has been caught flat-footed over the years by new technologies ranging from videocassettes to podcasts. The union is now trying to play catch-up on a wide front of broadcast platforms, as well as with unscripted TV programs. It has signed up about 1,000 reality-TV writers and editors requesting unionization, but has won no contracts to date.
Winning an agreement with Model would mark an important breakthrough, which is why the guild is throwing its full weight behind the strike. The 12 writers have been getting support from across the city and are joined by new supporters virtually every day, including visits from Assemblyman Paul Koretz, Justice for Janitors and members of Teamster Local 399, which parked its monster organizing truck on Sepulveda at last week’s strike.
Leaving behind the double-wide’s air conditioning and returning to the fray in the midday heat, the writers are joined on the picket line by The Simpsons’ writing team, and will soon be joined by writers from King of the Hill and Family Guy. A few days earlier, former Model contestant Lisa D’Amato, wearing a sexily modified WGA T-shirt, carried a sign for a full day’s picket duty in the withering sun while demonstrating “how to walk the catwalk on the picket line.”
At the heart of most reality shows lies a Darwinian battle of wiles, wills and deceptions that produces one winner and many more losers. Model’s writers have come to find themselves in a similar situation within their profession, and their strike now puts them in very unscripted waters.
“It’s been a little surreal,” Bowe admits. “It’s almost as though someone changed the channel on us. One week we’re writing at our desks, and the next we’re in the streets yelling, ‘No contract — no scripts.’ ”