Writers strike out on their own with a website

New online project gives writers greater control over their work.

By , Los Angeles Times

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    In this image released by Strike.TV, Joanne Whalley, left, and Timothy Dalton are shown in a scene from, "Unknown Sender."
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Striking writer Peter Hyoguchi was walking the picket line outside Disney’s ABC Studios in Burbank, Calif., in January when he had an epiphany. What if scriptwriters launched a website featuring their work, which they would own and control free of studio interference?

That hunch is about to be tested. After months of planning and delay, Mr. Hyoguchi and his colleagues have turned their seemingly quixotic idea into a reality. Two weeks ago, they launched an online “network” for original programming named Strike.TV. It marks an ambitious effort to connect film and TV writers to the fledgling world of online video. The portal will run 45 original Web series with more than 200 episodes from such veteran writers as Lester Lewis, a producer on “The Office,” and Ken LaZebnik, a “Star Trek: Enterprise” scribe. Shows include actors Timothy Dalton and JoBeth Williams.

Episodes are mostly three to five minutes and roll out daily on Strike.TV, and they also are available on YouTube and Joost.

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The Los Angeles company just signed an agreement with Hulu, an online video service backed by NBC, FOX, and other networks, to become its largest supplier of Web-original entertainment.

Programming encompasses horror, drama, sci-fi, animation, soaps, and comedy. “The Challenge,” for example, stars Bob Newhart trying to do “what many people think is one of the most difficult tasks in modern society – opening a new DVD.”

Tom Holland’s 5 or Die,” from the creator of horror flick “Fright Night,” is about three friends who get caught in a chain e-mail that instructs them to forward the letter in five minutes or die.

But behind the company’s proletarian moniker – a tribute to its provenance – is a decidedly entrepreneurial idea that writers should be able to cash in on the Internet.

“We were striking mostly over Internet issues, and yet none of us knew anything about the Internet. So we thought, ‘Why not just try it ourselves and see what it’s all about?’ ” says Mr. Lewis, one of Strike.TV’s founders.

Strike.TV is a combination of altruism and capitalism. The writers and actors involved have volunteered their time and money to get the venture off the ground. For the first three months of operation, the company will donate proceeds from advertising to the Actors Fund, which assists entertainment industry workers.

After that, and if it succeeds, the principals will share in future advertising revenue.

Strike.TV was among several online ventures hatched during the 100-day strike as writers sought ways to exploit the Internet and circumvent the studio system with which they were at war. Some of the ventures never got off the ground; others are still in development.

Among them is Virtual Artists, a company backed by a group of writers and software developers, which plans to launch a digital production studio next month. Virtual Artists is talking to advertisers about sponsoring shows that would be distributed through Strike.TV and other sites.

“We’re simply going to the source of money and working with them to fund our shows,” says screenwriter Aaron Mendelsohn, a cofounder of Virtual Artists and a writer for “Air Bud.”

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