So, What Were We Writing About Again?
LOS ANGELES — Facing his writing staff on Wednesday for the first time since the end of a 100-day strike, Shane Brennan, the co-executive producer of the CBS drama “NCIS,” asked a question that drew blank stares. “Can anyone remember what we were working on three months ago?”
Similar scenes played out in dozens of writers’ conference rooms in New York and the Los Angeles area as the entertainment industry — particularly the television business — returned to work and sought to jump-start production.
The strike, which was formally called off Tuesday night by the Writers Guild of America, had halted production of 46 dramas and 17 comedies.
Mr. Brennan, whose show is watched by about 18 million viewers each week, instructed the nine writers seated around a large table to forget the various plots they had been working on before the strike.
“All we’re going to do is waste a day trying to remember it,” he said. He added with a chuckle, “While I sound like I know what I’m talking about, and that I have a plan, I really am making this up as I go.”
For many writers, returning to work brought an emotion akin to what they remembered experiencing on their first day of high school. There was the giddy mood accompanying the start of something new and fresh — and the pit of anxiety in their stomachs as they made the transition from mostly idle days to a daunting workload. And who was that guy in the corner? “I almost didn’t recognize you with that new beard,” said Mr. Brennan to Greg Weidman, a production assistant.
On the Warner Brothers lot, Stephanie Savage and Josh Schwartz, the co-creators of “Gossip Girl,” the teenage soap opera on CW network, likened reopening their offices to starting up a summer camp after the winter. “Nobody had been cleaning and there was crime scene tape across the door,” Ms. Savage said. Walking into her office, she said, “And somehow I remembered my office being much nicer.”
Mr. Schwartz, who will resume work on his other series, NBC’s “Chuck,” in a few weeks, tried to cheer her up. “There are still tumbleweeds blowing through half the office. It’s going to take a little time to feel normal again.”
Upstairs, in the “Gossip Girl” writers’ room, Ms. Savage started a discussion with five writers about possible story lines for the show, which focuses on a group of privileged high school students in New York. One writer mentioned college visits as a possibility, while another talked about a new love triangle. But the writers, all good friends, kept breaking off to catch up on their own gossip. “O.K., is anybody watching ‘Celebrity Rehab’ on VH1?” asked Mr. Schwartz.
In New York, Warren Leight, the show runner on “Law & Order: Criminal Intent,” was tucking into a delivered lunch along with a bustling office filled with writers, producers and researchers. The “Criminal Intent” crew had no scripts banked when work stopped on Nov. 5, so on Wednesday they were just beginning to map out story lines for the next five episodes.
“It’s like putting a harness back on,” he said. “Actually, like putting 10 harnesses back on.”
Chatter on both coasts centered on how relieved everyone was that the strike was finally over. “As I drove into work today, I just thought, ‘Thank God people are going to be able to come back to work and support their families and get on with their lives,’ ” said Glenn Gordon Caron, the creator of “Medium,” the NBC drama starring Patricia Arquette as a mother with psychic powers.
“I’m really, really, really, really happy to be back,” he said. “Wait. I want to add another ‘really’ to that.”
With the writers back, hustle and bustle returned to the studio lots in Los Angeles and Burbank. Teamsters who had refused to cross picket lines, snarling the transport of movie sets during the strike, smiled and waved at guards as they drove through the wrought-iron gates of Paramount Pictures. Studio cafeterias cooked more food. And casting directors, waiting around for new scripts to fill with guest stars, started working the phones.
The strike may officially be over, but the dust will not settle any time soon. In the coming days, writers must vote on the tentative contract that was reached between studio executives and guild leaders in recent weeks.
Although approval is expected — union leaders characterized portions involving payment for the streaming of programs on the Web as a “huge victory” — many guild members said they would retain raw feelings about the strike.
Many writers found themselves with no jobs waiting after the strike. Some shows, like “Big Shots” on ABC, were canceled during the walkout because of low ratings. Others, like “Heroes” on NBC, are experiencing delays, forcing some writers to wait several more months before production can resume.
On Wednesday, Los Angeles County officials were still working to tabulate what the strike had cost the local economy. About $3.2 billion was the latest guess from Jack Kyser, the chief economist for the Los Angeles County Economic Development Corporation.
Mr. Kyser said writers and production workers had lost $772 million in wages. The strike also led to $981 million in lost revenue at businesses that serve the industry, Mr. Kyser said.
People at the Smoke House, a restaurant across from the Warner Brothers lot, are happy the strike is over. The restaurant, whose red Naugahyde booths have been a favorite of stars like Judy Garland and George Clooney (who named his production company for it), experienced a revenue slide of 17 percent in recent months, according to Lee Spencer, the owner. Taking a particular toll was the lack of so-called wrap parties, informal gatherings after a production.
“A whole cast and crew might come over and drop $5,000 to $10,000 on somebody’s black American Express,” Mr. Lee said. “It’s the cream puff stuff like that we need to run a healthy business.” Mr. Lee said he had to cut the hours of employees, including those of Irene and Phil, the lounge’s singer-and-keyboardist duo. Mr. Lee, like many other business owners interviewed, said the reservation line started ringing with more frequency as soon as rumors started to spread that writers were getting close to a deal. “Bam! Right back to normal,” he said.
Despite the outsize shadow it casts on Los Angeles, the entertainment industry employs only about 250,000 in the area, out of about 4.17 million total jobs, not counting farming. So the city hardly ground to a halt, despite the dire predictions of some studio executives and news media outlets. Many visitors to Los Angeles, along with a large swath of the local population, were untouched, Mr. Kyser said.
Some establishments might actually see a reverse effect now that the strike has been resolved. At Raffles L’Ermitage, a luxury hotel that operates a popular industry watering hole called the Writers Bar, revenue climbed 20 percent during the strike, according to Jack Naderkhani, the general manager.
“Many in the industry considered the bar to be neutral territory,” he said. Or, as a hotel spokeswoman wondered in an e-mail message, “maybe there’s some comfort in hanging out in a place with your name on it” when you are out of work.