Tentative Writers Deal Will be For 3 Years

The Writers Guild of America says the tentative deal reached early Tuesday will cover its television and film writers for three years if ratified by its members.

The guild released a one-sentence statement confirming the deal and its length. There were no details on the terms of the agreement, or how it addressed compensation and health care issues that had been the major sticking points of this contract’s negotiations.

The deal’s announcement came more than 90 minutes after the previous contract expired. Pickets could have started Tuesday morning, immediately sending late night talk shows into reruns and eventually impacting scripted series and feature films in development.

The previous writers’ strike occurred nearly 10 years ago and gradually took a wider toll on Hollywood TV and movie production and the California economy.  (AP)


TV Networks Brace for Potential Actors Strike

Fall season could be delayed if walkout halts production
By Steve Gorman
updated 6:24 p.m. PT, Thurs., June. 19, 2008

LOS ANGELES – As Hollywood recovers from a tumultuous writers strike that ended in February, U.S. television networks are bracing for a possible actors walkout that could delay the upcoming fall TV season.

Jitters over renewed labor unrest have mounted in recent days as contract talks between the Screen Actors Guild and the major film and TV studios have grown increasingly rancorous with little or no sign that a settlement is near.

The three-year labor pact covering film and prime-time TV work for 120,000 SAG members is due to expire in two weeks.

SAG leaders triggered an outcry from the studios late last week by suggesting a deal was unlikely to be reached by the June 30 deadline and saying they were considering whether to seek permission of rank-and-file members to call a strike.

The talks, which began in April, have bogged down on some of the same issues that led to a work stoppage by screenwriters earlier this year, including payments earned by union talent from DVD sales and work created for the Internet.

The writers strike brought production on most scripted TV series to a halt, idled thousands of workers and forced networks to replace sidelined programs with a glut of reruns and reality shows. TV ratings already in a slump sagged further. One estimate put the total cost to the Los Angeles-area economy at $3 billion.

With so much at stake, studio and network bosses are said to be preparing strike contingencies.

The studios’ bargaining agent, the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers, acknowledged last week that continued labor uncertainty has curtailed movie production and disrupted pilot development for new TV series.

Moreover, the networks are quietly considering a postponement of the traditional September launch of the next TV season as a “last resort” should a strike materialize, said Nellie Andreeva, who covers TV for The Hollywood Reporter.

“We have talked to executives (and) privately, they say, ‘That’s a possibility we’re looking at,”‘ Andreeva said.

Some shows stay in production
Television was especially hard hit by the 100-day writers strike, and when the TV season ended last month, some shows stayed in production or started up again after a short break rather than taking off for their customary summer hiatus.

The altered production cycle could help the networks soften the blow of a potential actors strike.

About half of all prime-time dramas and sitcoms are now shooting for the fall, allowing those shows to stockpile a handful of new episodes in the event of a work stoppage, said one studio insider who spoke on condition of anonymity.

Andreeva said about two dozen shows will have two or three original episodes ready in time for a strike, including “Heroes,” “House,” “CSI: Crime Scene Investigation,” “ER” and “My Name is Earl.” Others, including “Grey’s Anatomy,” “Desperate Housewives” and “The Office,” will not, she said.

Ironically, the Fox hit “24,” which missed an entire season due to the writers strike, appears to be one of the shows best situated to survive a new work stoppage unscathed.

With several episodes already shot before the writers walked off the job last year and producers slated to keep filming through October, the spy thriller seems likely to get all two dozen episodes done in time for the show’s scheduled return in January 2009.

But the studio source insisted the reason for summer TV production has more to do with an eagerness to return to work than a deliberate strike-preparation strategy.

“There’s a hunger on the part of writers, actors and studios to start making shows again,” he said. “It doesn’t make a lot of sense to people who have just had four months off to take another three months just because of the time of year.”

Many in Hollywood see an actors strike as relatively improbable given the leftover fatigue from the writers’ work stoppage. Some question whether SAG could even muster the 75 percent majority needed from members in a strike authorization vote, a process that would probably take three weeks.

The outcome of talks between SAG and the studios have become further muddied by a vitriolic battle between SAG and its estranged sister union, the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists.

AFTRA struck its own deal with the studios last month, and assuming its 70,000 members ratify their TV contract, a handful of shows produced under that labor deal, including “Til Death” and “Rules of Engagement,” could continue during a SAG strike.

But it remains to be seen whether AFTRA members, many of whom also belong to SAG, would cross picket lines.

The studios and some union members have accused SAG of dragging its feet at the bargaining table while campaigning to defeat the AFTRA settlement. SAG has urged its 40,000 members with dual membership to reject that deal in a ratification vote that comes to a close on July 8, saying its own negotiating clout would otherwise be undermined by the AFTRA accord.

The last time the U.S. TV season was delayed by a contract dispute was when Hollywood writers walked off the job in 1988.

Screen Actors Guild says Contract Talks Could Last into July

The Screen Actors Guild says negotiations with Hollywood studios could extend beyond June 30, the day its contract is set to expire.

SAG executive director Doug Allen says in a Thursday e-mail to The Associated Press the union is hoping for an agreement soon but is prepared to keep negotiating into July.

The union has yet to call for a strike authorization vote by members and hopes work in Hollywood would continue if contract talks are extended.

The Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers, which represents studios, says it’s frustrated and discouraged at the guild’s attitude.

Both sides have said they want to avoid a repeat of the 100-day writers strike that ended in February. That walkout shut down production on dozens of TV shows and cost the Los Angeles-area

economy an estimated $2.5 billion.

(Copyright 2008 by The Associated Press.  All Rights Reserved.) 

Study: $2.1B Price Tag on Hollywood Writers Strike

A new report finds the Hollywood writers strike could end up costing the state’s economy an estimated $2.1 billion.

The study, released Thursday by the Milken Institute, also finds a projected net loss of 37,700 jobs directly and indirectly tied to the entertainment industry.

The report says although the strike ended in February, effects of the walkout are still rippling across California’s economy.

Many of those who lost their jobs were not hired back and the strike’s effect was magnified further because those who lost their jobs cut back on their spending.

Several businesses that service the industry also were squeezed.


(Copyright 2008 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

Strike Ends; Desperate Housewives Continue to Be Naughty!

The AP urgent that came across the wires last night:

BC-APNewsAlert,0045LOS ANGELES (AP) — The Writers Guild of America says its members have voted to end their strike.(Copyright 2008 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

APNP-02-12-08 1852PST


From the Los Angeles Times this morning:


Hollywood writers strike ends

Family matters

Rick Loomis / Los Angeles Times
FAMILY MATTERS: Writer Greg Fields lets 3-year-old son Caelan cast his ballot at the Writers Guild of America Theater.
After 100 days, WGA members vote overwhelmingly to go back to work.
By Claudia Eller and Richard Verrier, Los Angeles Times Staff Writers
February 13, 2008
The strike is over.Hollywood’s costly 100-day walkout came to a widely welcomed end Tuesday after members of the Writers Guild of America voted overwhelmingly to go back to work.

‘Writers got hard-fought and well earned improvements, but it could be tougher sledding for the rank and file in the future.’
Steven Beer, entertainment attorney

More than 90% of the 3,775 writers who cast ballots in Los Angeles and New York voted to immediately end the work stoppage, capping the entertainment industry’s most contentious labor dispute in recent history.

“Rather than being shut out of the future of content creation and delivery, writers will lead the way as TV migrates to the Internet and platforms for new media are developed,” said Patric M. Verrone, president of the WGA, West.

On Feb. 25, writers are expected to ratify a new three-year contract that ensures them a stake in the revenue generated when their movies, television shows and other creative works are distributed on the Internet. Whether the benefits from the new contract will be enough to offset the income writers and others lost because of the strike is a matter of debate.

Steven Beer, an entertainment attorney at Greenberg Traurig, predicted that working writers may have fewer opportunities as studios use the strike as a means to cut programming budgets, greenlight fewer pilots, reduce fees and limit the number of production deals on their lots.

“Writers got hard-fought and well-earned improvements, but it could be tougher sledding for the rank and file in the future,” he said.

Other experts believe the writers won a victory that transcends any financial gains.

“It was a defining moment,” said economist Harley Shaiken, a professor at UC Berkeley who specializes in labor issues. “It showed that a very disparate group of individuals could act with real solidarity — and that packed real economic power.”

The walkout, which began Nov. 5, proved to be far more economically damaging than the studios had expected, shutting down more than 60 TV shows, hampering ratings and depriving the networks of tens of millions in advertising dollars.

Labor experts said the crippling effect of the strike helped writers achieve gains they might not have otherwise attained.

The new contract gives them residual payments for shows streamed over the Internet and secures the union’s jurisdiction for programming created for the Web.

“They successfully faced down six multinational media conglomerates and established a beachhead on the Internet,” said Jonathan Handel, former associate counsel for the Writers Guild of America, West and an attorney at TroyGould. “When you consider what they were initially offered and the enormous odds they faced, that’s quite an achievement.”

Handel noted that studios had originally balked at writers’ demands for new-media residuals, proposing a multiyear study instead.

Yet the new contract falls short of what writers were initially seeking.

“It’s a good deal but not a great one,” said Handel, adding that both sides made key compromises.

For example, writers received guarantees that any guild member hired to create original shows for the Web would be covered under a union contract. But the tentative contract enables studios to hire nonunion writers to work on low-budget Internet shows, giving them the flexibility they sought to compete in the burgeoning world of Web entertainment.

The writers agreement was largely patterned after a recent deal studios made with directors. Writers, however, got some important improvements, especially in pay for shows that are streamed on advertising-supported websites.

Writers were unsuccessful, however, in their efforts to shorten the 17-to-24-day window that studios have to stream their shows for promotional purposes without paying residuals. Many writers complained that most viewers watched repeats online within days after a program was initially broadcast.

With the strike now over, economists are tallying up the cost to the industry and the Los Angeles region. Measuring the financial losses is inherently difficult and estimates vary widely.

Jack Kyser, chief economist for the Los Angeles County Economic Development Corp., estimates the walkout cost the local economy more than $3 billion. Of that total, an estimated $772 million came from lost wages for writers and production workers, $981 million from various businesses that service the industry, including caterers and equipment rental houses, and $1.3 billion from the ripple effect of consumers not spending as much at retail shops, restaurants and car dealers.

Still, the total is relatively small considering that the L.A. economy generates $1.3 billion a day.

The entertainment industry employs about 250,000 in the Los Angeles region, including thousands who are self-employed.

Contract Outlined in Hollywood Writers Strike

Possible resolution 

Bloomberg News

Members of the Writers Guild of America collect picket signs to go march outside of NBC studios in Burbank, California, U.S., on Friday, February 1, 2008. Writers have been picketing for nearly three months while making interim deals with a select few production companies.
If union leaders OK the proposal, the strike could be called off by week’s end, salvaging the Oscars and fall TV.
By Richard Verrier, Los Angeles Times Staff Writer
February 3, 2008
Hollywood’s striking writers and major studios have reached the outlines of a new employment contract, resolving key sticking points over how much writers should be paid for work that is distributed over the Internet, people familiar with the negotiations said Saturday.A final contract could be presented to the Writers Guild of America board as early as Friday, according to three people close to the talks who asked not to be identified because the negotiations are confidential.

The 3-month-old strike is expected to end once the board approves the contract.

The tentative deal came after two weeks of talks that culminated in a marathon bargaining session Friday that was attended by News Corp. President Peter Chernin, Walt Disney Chief Executive Robert A. Iger and Writers Guild of America negotiators David Young, Patrick M. Verrone and John F. Bowman.

Progress had been made in previous meetings on payment for work sold online, but Friday’s session saw a breakthrough on the most contentious issue: compensation for the free streaming of films and TV programs over the Internet.

Representatives of the Writers Guild and the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers, which represents the studios, declined to comment, citing a media blackout.

Attorneys from the studios and the guild were meeting over the weekend to discuss contract language for the proposed agreement, which would need to be ratified by the union’s 10,500 members. Even before a vote by members, the strike would probably be called off if board members strongly endorse the deal.

There are some issues that have yet to be resolved, including defining what qualifies as promotion on the Internet. The debate centers on the extent to which networks can run video clips and other materials on their websites to promote TV programs before paying writers.

Both the writers and the studios faced rising pressures to find a way to end Hollywood’s costliest strike in two decades.

Concluding the strike would allow thousands of workers who lost their jobs when television production shut down to return to work. It would also allow the broadcast networks to salvage the upcoming fall season. Production of pilots is scheduled to begin this month.

An end to the strike would also ensure that Hollywood’s most glamorous party, the Feb. 24 Academy Awards, would air on ABC as scheduled. Last month’s Golden Globes were dramatically scaled back after writers and many actors refused to cross the picket line. The Oscars would likely have faced similar boycotts.

The writers began their strike Nov. 5 in a fight largely about securing their future as digital technology transforms the film and TV industry.

Writers fear being shortchanged as the studios rush to distribute their TV shows and movies on the Web, cellphones, video iPods and other devices. The payments they receive when their material is reused, known as residuals, help writers weather the feast-and-famine cycles of the business. Studios, confronted with rising marketing and production costs and flattening DVD revenue, have been reluctant to commit to the guild’s new-media pay demands when the economics of the Internet and other digital technologies are uncertain.

The latest round of discussions began two weeks ago after directors quickly negotiated their own accord with studios.

In Hollywood, the first union to reach a contract often sets the template for the other talent unions in a process known as pattern bargaining.

The tentative writers’ agreement is largely modeled on the directors’ pact, which doubles residual payments for films and TV shows sold online, secures the union’s jurisdiction over shows created for the Internet (above certain budgets) and establishes payments for shows that are streamed on advertising-supported websites.

A number of top screenwriters and TV writer-producers known as show runners had in recent weeks lobbied their leaders to use the Directors Guild deal as template for their own agreement, eager to put the town back to work.

The directors’ deal, however, stirred a debate among striking writers. Many complained that the directors’ contract offered meager residuals on shows that were streamed free on advertising-supported websites. Another criticism was that the directors’ deal limited the union’s jurisdiction over shows created for the Web at a time when online entertainment is burgeoning.

That complaint was echoed a few days ago by the Screen Actors Guild, whose leaders publicly disparaged the directors’ contract.

On Friday, however, studios offered some key concessions to ease those concerns and keep the talks on track. Those included more favorable pay terms for streaming than those offered to directors. Studios also offered “separated rights” provisions for shows created for the Web, ensuring, for example, that writers would receive extra compensation and credit for online shows that spawn TV pilots, two people close to the talks said.

Writers made some important concessions of their own earlier when they dropped demands to unionize work on animated movies and reality TV shows — both of which had been viewed as non-starters by the studios.

The agreement was negotiated on the studio side by Chernin and Iger, who had been designated by the heads of the other studios to negotiate on their behalf.

That stood in contrast to previous sessions with the writers in which top media executives weren’t at the bargaining table and were led instead by Nick Counter, president of the producers association, and labor relations executives from the major studios.

Having done the heavy lifting, Chernin and Iger will now step back and rely on labor relations executives to formalize contract language this week.

Guild negotiators Young, Verrone and Bowman on Monday are expected to brief the union’s 17-member negotiating committee and board of directors on the proposed contract.

Late Nights Continue to Get Better!

From the Los Angeles Times:

Late-night shoes continue to drop: Colbert and Stewart will return Jan. 7

Wga_11This afternoon, Comedy Central announced that Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert would return to the cable network’s airwaves Jan. 7. Neither show has had new episodes since the Writers Guild of America went on strike Nov. 5.That leaves David Letterman and Craig Ferguson, who hope to negotiate an interim deal between their Worldwide Pants production company and the WGA, as the only late-night hosts who have no official return date.

Here is Comedy Central’s press release:

“‘The Daily Show with Jon Stewart’ and ‘The Colbert Report’ will resume production on Jan. 7 with both shows returning to air that night without their respective writing staffs.  The Jan. 7 return follows a scheduled two-week, end-of-year hiatus that was previously built into the shows’ production calendars.  We continue to hold out hope for a swift resolution to the current stalemate that will enable the shows to be complete again.”

— Comedy Central

“We would like to return to work with our writers. If we cannot, we would like to express our ambivalence, but without our writers we are unable to express something as nuanced as ambivalence.”

— Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert