Turnabout is fair play. The general concensus is that the Alliance For Motion Picture & Television Producers is pursuing a “divide and conquer” strategy towards the striking writer. So the WGA is now saying that two can play that game. In fact, starting as soon as Monday. But will the Hollywood moguls take up the offer if it means they’re ostracized from the CEOs club (no tee time foursomes at Riviera or Bel Air Country Club) because they put shareholders before Big Media colleagues? I fear the answer is no. Because agents are telling me the Reality TV orders are coming in fast and furiously from the networks, who are clearly digging in for a long seige even it means scrapping most scripted series’ Back 9 and even pilot season. Here’s the latest WGA statement followed by the AMPTP’s. (See below for my analysis and read my previous, The Line To Break Mogul Ranks Is Here…):
A Message to the WGA Membership from its Negotiating Committee:
As you know, the AMPTP is currently unwilling to bargain with us. The internal dynamics of the AMPTP make it difficult for the conglomerates to reach consensus and negotiate with us on a give and take basis. We believe this multi-employer structure inhibits individual companies from pursuing their self-interest in negotiations. We nonetheless continue to hope that the AMPTP will return in good faith to negotiate a fair contract with writers, as two television seasons and numerous feature projects are currently at great risk.
We want to do everything in our power to move negotiations forward and end this devastating strike. We have therefore decided to reach out to major AMPTP companies and begin to negotiate with them individually. As you may know, bargaining on a multi-employer basis through the AMPTP is an option for the WGA, not a legal requirement. Each signatory employer is required to bargain with us individually if we make a legal demand that it do so.
We will make this demand on Monday December 17th and hope that each company responds promptly, in accordance with the law.
In the meantime, we urge you to support us and our negotiations team and leadership during these difficult times. We look forward to a making a fair deal that will resolve this strike, protect our future and put us all back to work, for the good of the industry and all of its employees.
John F. Bowman, Chair
David A. Goodman
The AMPTP predictably poured cold water all over the idea:
Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers spokesman Jesse Hiestand
issued the following today in response to a statement from the WGA negotiating committee:
This is merely the latest indication that the WGA organizers are grasping for
straws and have never had a coherent strategy for engaging in serious
negotiations. The AMPTP may have different companies with different assets in
different businesses, but they are all unified in one common goal — to reach
an agreement with writers that positions everyone in our industry for success
in a rapidly changing marketplace.”
The issue at hand is whether the WGA can exploit the lack of unanimity within the mogul ranks on how to proceed with the AMPTP-WGA contract talks. For one thing, not all their agendas are the same: there are the mostly movie studios, the mostly TV networks, and the studios that own networks, and the networks that own studios. But here is what Big Media consolidation has wrought: Brad Grey, for instance, can’t just do a Paramount-WGA deal because he has to take into account Les Moonves’ opinions even though Viacom and CBS are supposed to be separate companies now. (Trust me, Grey can’t do what Moonves doesn’t want him to do. For instance, Moonves is planning to make movies, but Grey recently let go of his chief TV exec.) Nor can Universal’s Ron Meyer because of NBC. So the handful of CEOs who normally trash-talk one another are now comrades in arms.
I’ve said this before but it’s well worth repeating: In the old days of guild talks, the AMPTP was made up of hundreds of honest-to-god independent producers But they went by the wayside when financial syndication rules were eased. So now there’s no Aaron Spelling or Carsey Werner in the mix at the AMPTP telling Big Media to play nice.
Starting back on December 3rd, WGAW prez Patric Verrone called on the more moderate CEOs to break ranks with AMPTP which he claimed is “allowing bottom-line hard-liners to rule the day.” I’ve heard top WGA’ers privately refer to this as the “Let’s Make A Deal” strategy. But it hadn’t been articulated in public until then. “If any of these companies want to come forward and bargain with us individually, we think we can make a deal,” Verrone told AP while conferring with picketing writers at NBC in Burbank.
I find it that the moguls may not have the strength of character, the commitment to their shareholders, or, let’s face it, the balls of steel necessary to go against The Club. For weeks now, I’ve talked to several CEOs about why they don’t deal individually with the WGA. After all, the car companies have a lot in common, but they still bargain individually with the auto workers. But Hollywood studios and networks are colluding, not competing.
Sony and Paramount are primarily in the movie business. Why not get their films restarted? NBC has been in the cellar ratings-wise. Why not leap-frog other networks and ensure the Golden Globes go off without a hitch? Then there’s ABC: doesn’t it have the most to lose with most of its Nielsen Top 10 series in primetime not to mention the Academy Awards? And do Fox’s rivals really want to cede January to May ratings to Peter Chernin?
Any network that does a deal now could save the Back 9 of scripted shows not to mention pilot season. Any movie exec could finish the 2009 slate and move on to 2010. Makes sense, right?
But when I raise this possibility, the CEO’s answer is an audible shrug, followed by stammering and a simple, “I just can’t.” Time to upset protocol and break ranks.