CBS writers strike causes Democrats to cancel presidential debate

Key presidential candidates said they would not cross the picket line.

Broadcast industry labor strife and presidential politics met head-on last week when the Democratic National Committee canceled a December 10 presidential debate that would have aired on CBS affiliate stations.

CBS news writers had used the debate as a leverage, suggesting a strike against the network might begin that day. Key presidential candidates said they would not cross the picket line. With all the uncertainty, the Democrats called off the debate last week. Karen Finney, the communications director for the committee, said there are no plans to reschedule the debate.

Television and film writers in the entertainment industry have been on strike since Nov. 5, and most of the Democrat candidates had pledged not to cross picket lines to attend the debate, which had been set to take place at CBS Television City in Los Angeles.

The Writers Guild of America represents both the news and entertainment writers involved in the labor disputes with CBS. However, the writers operate under separate contracts. Though all the networks have been affected by the scriptwriters’ strike, only CBS News would be affected if the news writers went ahead with a strike.

The Dec. 10 debate was to be fed to individual CBS stations, each having the choice of whether to broadcast it live. It would not have aired on the network, but would have been available on CBS’ Web site.

Meanwhile, Conan O’Brien, the host of NBC’s late night show, has agreed to pay nonwriting staff members on his show their regular salaries starting Dec. 3 if the strike is not resolved, “Variety” reported.

NBC paid the staff members, including bookers, production assistants and segment producers, through the first four weeks of the strike, but as of this week, the network will begin laying those workers off.

Also, a tentative agreement for a 3.5 percent annual pay increase was reached last week on a new contract for some 250 ABC News employees, including some personnel with WABC-TV in New York City. This group of workers, members of the Writers Guild of America East, had been working under a contract that expired in January 2005. A ratification vote is scheduled for Dec. 13 at meetings in New York and Washington, D.C.