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There's a turf war going on over where Hollywood strikers can picket


Hollywood actors and writers have been picketing for months now, and there's an ongoing turf war being fought over where exactly strikers can and cannot protest. Dave Blanchard with NPR's Planet Money team explains. And, full disclosure - as broadcast journalists, many NPR employees belong to the SAG-AFTRA union, including me, though we are governed by a different contract than actors.

DAVE BLANCHARD, BYLINE: Bill Wolkoff is a strike captain for the Writers Guild of America. He helps lead the picket line at the Television City studio lot in Los Angeles.


BLANCHARD: How do you tell the difference between a friendly honk and an unfriendly honk?

BILL WOLKOFF: When somebody yells out and shouts at us, get back to work.

BLANCHARD: That's pretty clear.


BLANCHARD: Some productions at TV City, soap operas like "The Young And The Restless" and other scripted shows, they're made by companies the WGA is striking against. People who work for these productions have to cross Bill's picket line. But other shows - think game shows or commercials - they're made by companies that unions aren't striking against. And so employees for those productions can use what's called a neutral gate to get onto the lot. Neutral gates cannot be picketed because those neutral workers...

WOLKOFF: They shouldn't have to physically cross a picket line. Nobody wants to cross a picket line.

BLANCHARD: From the very first day of the strike, Bill had a hunch that the neutral gate at TV City was being abused, that someone was cheating. He remembers watching and thinking...

WOLKOFF: There are really-good-looking-actor types going through these neutral gates right now. And I found it hard to believe that all of those cars were neutral parties.

BLANCHARD: Bill thought beautiful people, TV City - they must be soap opera stars who are not allowed to be using the neutral gate. So Bill hatched a plan.

WOLKOFF: We've just got to catch a "Young And The Restless" actor going through the neutral gate.

BLANCHARD: If Bill could snare the right good-looking-actor type, the writers would be allowed to start picketing the gate, expand the number of places where they could apply pressure on the studio. They just needed someone who really knew soap operas. Then one day, Bill met someone on the picket line, a Writers Guild member he'd never seen before.

WOLKOFF: This writer told me that she was a former "Young And The Restless" writer, and I said, wow, this is fantastic.

BLANCHARD: Sara Bibel worked for "The Young And The Restless" for 13 years, exactly who Bill was looking for.

SARA BIBEL: He seemed pleased that I was willing to volunteer to participate.

BLANCHARD: She agreed to take some shifts watching the gate. Days went by, then weeks. And finally, one day...

BIBEL: Right over here, I saw a white pickup truck.

BLANCHARD: She thought she recognized the truck. It came closer, and then she saw the driver's face.

BIBEL: He's a very handsome guy, so he was very recognizable. And I was like, oh, my God, there he goes. There's Mark Grossman.

BLANCHARD: Mark Grossman, aka Adam Newman in "The Young And The Restless," was using the neutral gate - proof that the gate was being abused. Grossman and "The Young And The Restless" declined to comment for this story, and Television City didn't respond to requests for comment. The day after Sara ID'd the neutral gate abuser, Bill and the writers began to picket there.

WOLKOFF: Flipping this gate probably won't be the thing that gets the studios back to the table, but even if it moves the needle just a smidge, then it's a victory to me.

BLANCHARD: Most of the writers picketing in Hollywood don't have a seat at the negotiating table. What they have are picket signs - and now one more place where they can use them. Dave Blanchard, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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