The three month old writers strike dramatically reduced the number of produced programs for the 2007-08 television season and pilot season is now in jeopardy. Movie deals are on hold; term deals have been terminated for force majeure and thousands are either out of work or about to be let go (including several agents I know who are hard pressed to find any other form of meaningful work – go figure!).
Studios and guild reps are under a news blackout while they engage in back channel and informal discussions regarding the strike impasse with the goal of more formal talks in the next few days; the first since negotiations broke down on December 7th.
Guild leaders recently withdrew their animation and reality TV proposals. They also agreed not to picket the Grammys. The Guild’s actions could be viewed as good faith concessions to help restart negotiations. On the other hand, they could simply be signs of strike fatigue and capitulation. Whatever the motivation, the AMPTP’s perception (and that of the WGA membership) stand to profoundly affect the psychology of pending negotiations and ultimately, the outcome of any deal.
While the Guild’s alternatives are limited, their current tactics may weaken the leverage that only a complete shut-down could support. The Guild continues to enter into piecemeal agreements with independent production and distribution companies – most recently, Lions Gate, RKO, Marvel and The Weinstein Company – based on the WGA’s initial proposals in an attempt to gain additional leverage. The WGA is betting that these deals will put pressure on the studios and networks to settle. However, the AMPTP dismissed these pacts as meaningless “one-off” agreements since the terms will be superseded by any deal ultimately negotiated by the parties. The Guild also runs the risk that these deals will split the rank in file between those working and getting paid on waiver-projects and those that remain unpaid and on picket lines. The Guild is already contending with an erosion of support in some quarters.
Certain Guild members are already grumbling about the prospect of “going financial core.” Rumor has it that a number of writers continue to develop projects during the strike “without paper” (i.e., without a written agreement in place) to pay the bills. It’s obvious to anyone watching “The Daily Show” or “The Cobert Report” that staff writers continue to work for these shows despite strike rule prohibitions. Hey, but I could be wrong.
With those reservations, there are several good things going for this latest round of talks for all concerned.
The principals are now talking instead of their reps. To be sure, representatives for both sides are still involved with these discussions but direct communication by the principals can diffuse the current hostility between the parties and allow them to refocus their energies on material deal points instead of petulance and platitudes.
The Directors Guild pact can be used as precedent. Since the AMPTP closed their deal with the DGA, the parties can now use the material terms of that agreement as a template for their own negotiations and adjust their respective expectations to those deal points in which there is a real prospect for consensus.
Weakening resolve on both sides. The studios and networks are quickly running out of content; writers need to work. Both sides realize that given the strike’s enormous financial toll on individuals, the local economy and corporate profits, it is in everyone’s best interests to work a deal as soon as possible; ideally before the Oscar telecast on February 24th.
Lastly, both parties should offer the other an ego nickel; a deal point or two of minimal value to the giving party that validates the receiving party’s demands enough for them to save face with their constituencies. Sooner or later, the parties will be working together again and a few ego-nickels might expedite closure of a deal both parties can live with if not embrace.