Saturday, February 02, 2008

Ninety Days and Counting

So unless my math is off, today the Writers Guild strike hits the ninety-day mark.

And how are things going? Mostly I have no super-informed idea, since the WGA leadership and CEOs Iger/Chernin are holding "informal discussions" that have gone on now for two weeks. And nobody is talking to the General Public.

But since I get asked about progress toward a settlement a lot, and since I'm a union type who's "supposed to know," I'll give you my Very Useful Speculation.

This summary from Rupert's Business Organ capsulizes current issues nicely:

Noise from restless factions of the Writers Guild of America, a desire to save the looming Academy Awards and a downward drift in television ratings in the absence of much new programming could combine to precipitate action ...

[T]he WGA continues to make interim deals with TV production companies and independent movie studios, cracks have begun to appear within the ranks and fallout continues in the film and television industry ...

Pressure from TV "showrunners" -- writers who also produce their own shows -- may be growing. Some outspoken showrunners, such as "ER" executive producer John Wells, have been agitating for resolution since the directors' guild hashed out its own deal ... Several [showrunners] have said they think the directors' template is the best that the writers are likely to get ...

Here are the problems for each side:

For the Producers: They can't be perceived as giving away the store after making a different (lesser?) deal with the DGA. This would be "rewarding bad behavior" ("bad behavior" = strike). Plus, it'd be tough to get the various congloms to sign off on the agreement.

For the WGA negotiating committee: It could have a rough time with members -- particularly the "United Hollywood" faction -- if it's seen as knuckling under to the producers and not getting something better than the malleable DGA. (Former WGA President John Wells's happy e-mail didn't sit well with some folks.)

At the same time, a lot of the Guild's highly compensated writers (the "moderates") are rumored to be getting antsy about watching contracts and paychecks evaporate into the polluted air.

Despite the problems, there's a lot of pressure to get to a workable compromise ... and if today's press reports are within hailing distance of reality, movement toward a solution may be going on.

Informal talks between representatives of Hollywood’s striking writers and production companies have eliminated the major roadblocks to a new contract, which could lead to a tentative agreement as early as next week, according to people who were briefed on the situation but requested anonymity because they were not authorized to speak...

I've been running around telling artists I thought there'd be a deal in 2-4 weeks. One thing that's often overlooked by people who haven't been through a strike is, long ones are nerve-wracking and debilitating. It's well and good for somebody sitting off to the side to pump a fist in the air and yell "stay strong!" But when it's your bank account that's disappearing and your house that's being foreclosed ... well, it gives the job action a darker and deeper meaning.

I can only hope that the reports from today are accurate, and that there's an agreement in days not weeks. The whole industry has suffered.


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