Strike, what strike? SAGs focus on glamor

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By LYNN ELBER

LOS ANGELES — The Screen Actors Guild Awards could have been a feisty labor rally, but turned out to be just another Hollywood back-patting ceremony.

The Writers Guild of America strike, which is nearing its third month and has disrupted TV and movie production, drew scant onstage mention at tonight's awards.

The ceremony was granted a writers guild waiver that allowed stars to attend — unlike the Golden Globes, which had no actors and became a dull news conference.

But despite that show of union solidarity, and with the Screen Actors Guild show's national TV platform, actors kept the focus on celebrating each other. It was left to guild President Alan Rosenberg to rally the troops.

"When the pioneers of our union were drawing up guidelines, they looked to the Writers Guild for inspiration. This began a treasured solidarity that continues today," he said onstage. "Our predecessors achieved so much on our behalf. But these achievements come with an obligation: to keep on fighting so that generations of actors who follow us can continue to create."

As the guild marks its 75th anniversary, Rosenberg said, "its future, my fellow actors, is up to you."

Winners and presenters skipped addressing the strike head-on, except for Julie Christie, best lead-actor winner for "Away From Her."

"It's lovely to receive an award from your own union, especially at a time when we're being so forcefully reminded how important unions are," Christie said.

But when Rosenberg introduced writers guild leader Patric Verrone from the stage, the Shrine Auditorium audience responded only with restrained applause.

It was as if the crowd didn't want strike woes to spoil the party, a rare bright spot after the tarnished Golden Globes and with the upcoming Oscars in jeopardy.

Backstage, Christie said that artists would be lost without unions to "represent our injustices."

"Without unions you could only say, 'This is so unfair. I can't bear it,'" Christie said. "You have to have a union to do that for you."

The writers guild and studios, tussling over the key issue of Internet compensation, began talking again last week, informally, after negotiations broke down Dec. 7.

A deal reached earlier this month between the studios and the Directors Guild of America, which addressed several of the new-media issues, was an impetus for the new writers' discussions.

On the red carpet, actors were optimistic about the possibility of an end to the strike that has idled thousands of workers in New York and Los Angeles.

"The conversations are happening. There was a time where it wasn't," said Chandra Wilson of "Grey's Anatomy," among the shows forced into reruns by the strike.

"Nobody wants what happened at the Golden Globes to happen again, so I know that puts extra pressure there, but maybe that's what we need, a little extra pressure so we can nail this thing down and get it done," Wilson said.

Next month's Academy Awards has been refused a waiver by the writers guild that would allow its members to work on the show and avert the possibility of an actors' boycott.

Said "Brothers and Sisters" star Sally Field: "It needs to be resolved. I worry about the crews, the writers, the actors. Our country is in a very precarious time right now and we need entertainment."

James Denton of "Desperate Housewives" predicted a swift end to the walkout. "I think it's almost over," he said. "I said Feb. 1 because of the combination of running out of programs and the DGA deal."

He said he hoped the actors guild, which faces the expiration of its own contract in June, would be able to follow the directors guild's contract lead and avoid another industry strike.

Marcia Cross, Denton's castmate on the ABC series, tried to put the matter into perspective.

"It'll be over soon," she said. "It's not the Middle East, let's just work things out."

AP

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