Writers began picketing network and studio headquarters on Monday, with the support of several celebrities and, courtesy of Jay Leno, a couple of boxes of doughnuts. There’s no telling how long the strike will last, but parallels to the 1988 walkout that cost Hollywood an estimated half a billion dollars have already been drawn.

The core issue here is how much of the new media pie the writers will be allowed to profit from. As producers increasingly look elsewhere for profits in this YouTube world, writers want their piece of the action. And we may be stuck with reruns and reality TV until they get it.

It should be noted that while the writers strike has been received with snickers by some, many writers don’t actually make much money, if they get work at all. Besides which the film and television industry is perhaps the most unionized in the world, and one of the only businesses in the American private sector where unions continue to thrive.

Los Angeles Times:

The striking began in earnest at 9 a.m. local time in New York, with “30 Rock” writer and star Tina Fey and others picketing outside Rockefeller Center on a frigid morning. A few hours later, at 9 a.m. West Coast time, hundreds of writers took to picket lines throughout the area: More than a hundred gathered outside Disney in Burbank, many dressed in red Writers Guild T-shirts. The writers were handed lyrics to several pro-union chants, including, “Network bosses, rich and rude, We don’t like your attitude!”

While many of the picket lines conjured up a jovial, party atmosphere as writers let loose their frustrations with negotiations that broke down at the eleventh-hour on Sunday night, there were smatterings of ugliness: A picketing writer was struck and injured by a car outside the Sunset-Gower Studios parking lot, allegedly by a driver who witnesses said threatened to run over the strikers if they didn’t move out of his way.

There was plenty of star power to go around. Late night talk show host Jay Leno, actress Julia Louis-Dreyfus and Oscar-winning “Terms of Endearment” writer-director James L. Brooks were among those lending their support on the picket lines early today.

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