UPDATE: So now I know the real deal. After lying to the writers of the Sit Down, Shut Up! primetime animated series that it would be a WGA show, and then watching those same writers stalk off the IATSE toon, Sony offered a sweetened deal — including payments of as much as $200,000 of additional compensation through a blind script deal — to convince some of the scribes to come back.
Most of the writers — including Josh Weinstein, Rich Rinaldi, Aisha Muharrar, Alex Herschlag, Laura Gutin, Dan Fybel, Aaron Ehasz, Michael Colton, and John Aboud — wound up coming back. Two — Bill Oakley and Ken Keeler — are still holding out for WGA jurisdiction of the show. That’s not going to happen because the toon is back in production.
There are conflicting accounts coming in to me about exactly what the Sony deal contains. Some sources say one still unresolved issue is WGA plan health and pension benefits. Other insiders tell me that’s been resolved. In the letter sent to me by some of the returning WGA writers, no mention of this is made. “Though the program will be produced under the jurisdiction of IATSE Local 839, The Animation Guild (TAG), we have achieved Writers Guild of America (WGA) parity in key areas such as auditable residuals, new media, script fees, merchandising rights as well as a guarantee that these gains apply not only to ourselves but also to all future writers on the show.”
The writers going back tell me that not every writer received more money from Sony, and not all received the same amount. But the sweetened deal was offered to them in June. “We did not take it. Instead we went back to Sony and said that we would not take a deal unless it had the WGA-parity residual protections for us and for future writers on this show. They said no. So we said no. This went back and forth for several weeks, until they met our demands,” one of the scribes tells me. “Did the new offer contain more money? Yes. But that didn’t affect the issues that were central to our bottom line. We wouldn’t have gone back without them. And if Sony offered tomorrow to make this a WGA show and take the money off the table, fine. We would jump at that chance.”
Some see this as the toon being saved because Sony threw money at the problem. Like one WGA leader who told me tonight, “the siege ended with a bribe”. The writers who went back had this to say, “This contract is a compromise: an improvement over the standard TAG terms we were initially offered, but not full WGA coverage.”
Sony issued this statement:
“We are happy that the writers have agreed to return to work on Sit Down, Shut Up! This is going to be a great show and we can’t wait to see it on the air on Fox.”
The WGA West statement immediately followed:
“Los Angeles – The fundamental issue here was WGA jurisdiction. Every primetime animated show currently on the air has been done under WGA jurisdiction with terms enforced by the WGA. Every single one. In the case of Sit Down, Shut Up! Sony insisted on hiring WGA writers, and Sony execs repeatedly assured them the show would be WGA. When the writers were told it would not be WGA, they walked out and demanded WGA coverage. For five weeks, they faced continuous ultimatums and illegal threats from Sony, while at the same time Sony offered enhanced economic terms. Finally, when Sony offered to pay ‘WGA equivalent residuals’ and to give each writer up to $200,000 in additional compensation through a blind script deal, most of the writers decided to accept. We understand why they did so but wish they hadn’t. Had they stuck together we believe that they would have won WGA coverage for Sit Down, Shut Up! Two WGA members refused the deal, and we and their fellow writers applaud them.”
I’m told tonight that the WGA can’t believe Sony was so determined to keep this show IATSE that it paid extra to get the writers back to work than choosing the cheaper path of bringing Sit Down, Shut Up! under WGA jurisdiction. “Obviously, they would rather make this incredibly uneconomic decision to try to roll back the WGA’s coverage of animation and win this war one show at a time.”
WGA insiders see this as a plan hatched by Sony’s chief labor lawyer Jean Bonini, who also is Sony’s representative on the AMPTP negotiating committee. “And that plan is to turn everything on its head and to give more and more control to the low-cost unions like IATSE and AFTRA at the expense of the WGA and SAG who are hurt by this. Residuals will become a thing of the past. It boggles the mind,” one WGA leader tells me. “The AMPTP is so determined to make a stand here that it’s just throwing money out the door in order for this not to be a WGA show. The AMPTP is running these CEOs.”
Having been the first to break the initial story of the WGA writers’ walkout on Sit Down, Shut Up!, and then to follow the controversy (see my posts below), I’m very conflicted about all of this. I’m thrilled to see enough give-and-take by Sony and some of the writers on the show so a lot of peoples’ jobs above and below the line are saved. But what horseshit for Sony to have kept whining it couldn’t change the toon’s jurisdiction without getting sued by IATSE. (As if…) I also commend the the two writers still holding out for WGA jurisdiction because of principle. But I also can’t condemn those who went back, either. This was their fight, not mine.
Nevertheless, what did this really cost Sony? Nasty headlines about its executives lying to talent. Embarrassing questions for Sony Pictures Entertainment chairman Michael Lynton about his company’s lack of integrity in the way it does business. This is a town of handshake deals and long-lasting relationships. If Sony is now seen as an untrustworthy employer and partner, then the price is way too high.