SEPTEMBER ELECTIONS: Larry Gelbart Writes Open Letter To WGA Membership

UPDATE: It seems the John Wells camp sent me two versions of his rebuttal: one on Google, and one on Word. I opened the Google document first and posted. Then I went and opened the Word document and saw it was still in “tracking” mode and clearly an extensively edited document. I contacted the Wells camp as to which version they wanted me to post. I was asked to click “accept changes”, then swap out the Google document for the Word document. Which I’ve now done. For transparency, DHD has posted the edited version first, but also made available the unedited version. (Click “more”.) Who fucked this up? Craig Mazin…

Larry’s statement deeply saddens me. He is one of my writing idols. And while I’m pleased he thinks I’m a “nice guy,” and I hope he thinks I’m the “very smart” one of the “Two Johns,” the tone, innuendo, half-truths and outright falsehoods that riddle his remarks epitomize what I feel has gone terribly wrong with the level of debate in the Guild since Writers United took control.

This isn’t the first time Larry and I have been at odds over the direction of the Guild, and I’m surprised that he didn’t disclose that history before launching into his attack. Years ago, Larry filed a charge with the Department of Labor against our union over whether showrunners (me in particular) could serve in elective Guild office. The Department of Labor disagreed, and dismissed the complaint.

But the defense of Larry’s fruitless charge cost our Guild well over two hundred thousand dollars of our hard-earned dues money to defend.

Of course, he wasn’t just wrong in the law, but in principle as well. I began my career as a staff writer, protected by the participation of Guild giants like Frank Pierson and David Rintels, Ed North, John Furia and Mel Shavelson. And I fully expect to be protected and supported in my retirement by the next generation of Shawn Ryans, Greg Daniels and Matthew Weiners. We all benefit from the participation in Guild politics by those lucky enough to be successful at that moment in their careers. Where would we have been in last year’s strike without our showrunners? Without Marc Cherry or Neal Baer, David Goodman or John Bowman?

Unfortunately, Guild politics isn’t always pleasant. This time, Larry’s target isn’t our Guild, but my reputation.

The truth is the best defense.

Larry claims that the Guild “became timid and obsequious” during my Presidency. In the 2001 negotiation we got 1.2% of 100% of internet rentals (the homevideo/DVD formula we’d always dreamed of getting but never had – and double what we got on internet downloads after three months of striking in ’07). We got a massive increase in our foreign television residuals and in our made for Pay formulas. And FOX was made a full network. All without striking – if that’s “timid and obsequious” negotiating, I hope whoever is elected President can be even more timid and obsequious in our next negotiation.

Larry claims that I was a “solo act” and “consulted no one”. Nothing could be further from the truth. We held numerous membership meetings, conducted detailed surveys, and I worked closely with the Negotiating Committee to negotiate the deal. In fact, the Negotiating Committee in ’01 was far more involved in the day-to-day specifics of the negotiations than the ’07 Negotiating Committee. (Please feel free to contact any member of the ’07 Negotiating Committee to ask them about how little they were actually involved in the negotiations). I did absolutely nothing as a solo act, working directly with the Board and the Negotiating Committee at every instance.

Larry also accuses me of “trading away” our DVD percentage for a one-time “script bonus” in 2001. “Better than nothing, but not by much.” This charge is patently absurd. Larry seems to be suggesting that increasing the DVD percentage in ’01 was simply a matter of will. If it were that simple, why didn’t Larry do it as a member of the Negotiating Committee in ’85 that stuck us with the crappy DVD formula in the first place? Or as a member of the ’88 Negotiating Committee that did nothing to get a better DVD formula for us during a five month strike? If phone trees and organizing were all that was required to increase the DVD formula, why did the current Guild leadership give up on DVDs in ’07 at the very beginning of the strike?

Larry suggests that the 2004 negotiation is “generally regarded as a disaster.” “Generally regarded” by whom? He doesn’t say. I guess Larry believes that a “disastrous” contract is one that protects our Pension and Health Fund and allows us to maintain benefits for the largest number of members. He then belittles the gains by suggesting the companies “coughed up some extra funding for our health fund.” Coughed up some extra funding? The Health and Pension Trustees begged us to make this our highest priority, so we did. It kept our Health Fund solvent.

Larry then goes on to say “both Johns argued forcefully that we mustn’t even ask” for the companies to cough up more than they did so as to be able to cover more writers. This is an outright lie. I never made such a statement, nor would I ever make such a statement.

And this very same “disastrous” 2004 negotiation enabled us to mount an effective strike in ’07. Why? It allowed us to move our contract expiration date into the fall, far in advance of the expiration of the DGA contract and smack dab in the middle of the fall television production season. If our contract expiration date had remained in the early summer, we would not have had the leverage necessary to strike for New Media in ‘07. We would have been handed a contract by the DGA without the benefit of our muscle on the picket line forcing a better deal. This wasn’t some lucky accident. We spent over a decade planning how to get our date moved into the fall, and that planning served us well in ’07. Current leadership squandered this advantage by not insisting on our maintaining our fall date as a condition of ending the strike. They could have gotten it, they didn’t.

Larry seems to be trying very, very hard to link me with John McLean, and I suppose I should be flattered that Larry has created a new turn of phrase to describe “The Two Johns” (although I somehow doubt it was intended to be complimentary). As President, I worked with the Executive Director. But if Larry had taken the time to do a little research, he would have discovered that I did not serve on the Executive Director Search Committee that hired John McLean, but that I did serve on the Executive Director Search Committee that recommended to the Board that we hire David Young.

Larry brings up what he refers to as my “Dear Jim” letter, suggesting that it somehow prevented us from getting a better deal from the Companies. This is yet another ridiculous and false allegation. Patric Verrone argued just a few weeks later that the WGA deal based on the DGA template was excellent. So which is it? Was our deal bad…or good?

He also claimed that my email encouraged members to accept the DGA deal and “go back to work,” further suggesting “That note, with the force of an IED, cut the legs off our negotiators.” My letter said no such thing and did no such thing. In case you didn’t read it, here is what it said after explaining the specifics of what the DGA had negotiated:

“Our Negotiating Committee has numerous issues that are specific to writers that must still be resolved with the AMPTP: the term of our next contract, pension and health issues, separated rights on new media, and jurisdiction for material written for derivatives that will not be filmed (show blogs, web-only stories, etc). But this is a historic deal. We’ve won. The strike was necessary to win it and I can only assume our Negotiating Committee will be sitting down with the AMPTP by early next week to resolve these last, final issues. It’s a very good day for all of us.”

That’s it. Cut the legs off of our negotiators? Encouraged members to accept the DGA deal and go back to work? Really? I beg to differ. But you don’t have to take my word for it. If you’ve never read it, it’s still hanging around the Internet somewhere. Dig it up and read it for yourself.

And finally, the most personally painful of Larry’s accusations — that I mistreated the writers I was working with on The West Wing.

The West Wing was a critically successful show, but never a big ratings hit. As soon as the ratings began to fall, the studio and network lowered the license fee and the show’s budget, forcing us to make extensive cuts. I didn’t want to lay off any writers, so I asked everyone to forgo raises (producers, directors and writers), and I took a pay cut. Larry is correct in saying this happened after the staffing season was mostly completed, but the budget cutbacks didn’t come until after the staffing season. We all made a little less (myself included), but everyone kept working. It made for a juicy story–“the President of the Writers Guild screwing writers.” But if Larry had taken the time to contact any of the writers involved, he would have discovered that when the meager profits for the show did start to trickle in, I took all of mine and distributed them to the members of the company – including the writers.

I didn’t have to do that, just as I didn’t have to keep all of the writers on the show, just as I didn’t have to cut my own pay. I did the best I could in a tough spot, and I would do it again. There’s a reason Jeff Melvoin, the mastermind behind our excellent Showrunner Training Program, is endorsing me.

Larry’s a fighter. As a member of the negotiating committees in the strike years of ’85 and ’88, and as a committed supporter of our most recent strike in ’07, he fought for all of our rights. Larry believes a Guild’s purpose is to strike, and he’s good at it. We’ve needed field generals like Larry and Patric Verrone and George Kirgo — and we’ve needed diplomats like Dan Petrie, John Furia and Del Reisman, who believed in engagement and hard-nosed negotiation. I like to think of myself as bringing a bit of both. We went to war over rollbacks in 1988 and new media jurisdiction in 2007. Without striking, tough, pragmatic negotiations in 2001 and 2004 secured Internet rentals and saved our health fund. Both tactics work. But in the end, no matter how long or strong you strike, every fight must end with a deal.

Larry’s statement gave me a reason to fight, but in the spirit of diplomacy, I’ll end with an olive branch. Larry Gelbart is a great writer, and I know he loves his Guild. If you choose to return me to office, I can assure you I will fight hard for all of our mutual interests—yours, mine, and yes, even Larry’s. I know that Larry respects Patric Verrone, as do I, so I’ll borrow a phrase that Patric used so often and effectively during the strike.

We’re all in this together, Larry.

Click to see the unedited version of John Wells’ rebuttal.

I have to say this non-candidate statement from Larry’s statement deeply saddens me. Larry He is one of my writing idols. And while I’m pleased he thinks I’m a “nice guy,” and I hope he thinks I’m the “very smart” one of the “Ttwo Johns,”, the tone, innuendo, half-truths and outright falsehoods that riddle this screed passing as folksy commentary is his remarks epitomizeexactly what I feel has gone terribly wrong with the level of debate within in the Guild since Writers United took control of the Guild.

This isn’t the first time Larry and I have been at odds over the direction of the Guild, and I’m surprised that Larry he didn’t consider it necessary to disclose this that history as a bit of a disclaimer before launching into this his attack. Years ago, Larry personally filed a charge with the Department of Labor against his own Guildour union with the Department of Labor over whether showrunners (me in particular) could serve in elective Guild office. He lost resoundingly when tThe Department of Labor disagreed, and dismissed the complaint.

But the defense of this Larry’s his fruitless charge lawsuit cost our Guild well over two hundred thousand dollars of our hard-earned dues money to defend. Two hundred thousand dollars of our hard earned dues money.

Of course, he wasn’t just wrong in the law, but in principle as well. Our Guild was founded by and has benefited from the participation of those of us fortunate enough to be very successful at some point in our careers. I began my involvement with the Guild as a career as a staff writer in television, protected by the participation of Guild giants like Frank Pierson and David Rintels, Ed North, John Furia and Mel Shavelson. And I fully expect to be protected and supported in my retirement by the next generation of Shawn Ryans, Greg Daniels and Matthew Weiners. We all benefit from the participation in Guild politics by those lucky enough to be successful at that moment in their careers. Where would we have been in last year’s strike without our showrunners? Without writer-directors like Phil Robinson and or Tom Schulman? Without Ed Solomon and or Marc Norman supporting us wholeheartedly?. Marc Cherry or Neal Baer, David Goodman or John Bowman?

But that history aside, I’d like to take a moment to respond to some of the more outrageous of Larry’s allegations. Unfortunately, Guild politics isn’t always pleasant. This time, Larry’s target isn’t our Guild, but my reputation.

The truth is the best defense.

Larry claims that the Guild “became timid and obsequious” during my Presidency. In the 2001 negotiation we got 1.2% of 100% of internet rentals (the homevideo/DVD formula we’d always dreamed of getting but never had – and that we didn’t getdouble what we got on internet downloads to won withafter three months of very effective striking in ’07, we got half that much). We got a massive increase in our foreign television residuals and in our made for Pay formulas. (that amounted to the largest increase in this years residuals report), And FOXox was made a full network. and substantial increases in our made for Pay formulas. All without striking – if that’s “timid and obsequious” negotiating, I hope whoever is elected President can get us more of thatbe even more timid and obsequious in our next negotiation.

Larry claims that I acted aswas a “solo act” and “consulted no one”. Nothing could be farther further from the truth. We held numerous membership meetings, conducted detailed surveys, and I worked closely with the Nnegotiating Ccommittee to negotiate the deal. In fact, the Nnegotiating Ccommittee in ’01 was far more involved in the day-to-day specifics of the negotiations than the ’07 Nnegotiating Ccommittee. (Pplease feel free to contact any member of the ’07 Nnegotiating Ccommittee to ask them about how little they were actually involved in the negotiations). I did absolutely nothing as a solo act, wand I workinged directly with the Board and the Negotiating Committee at every instance. Reporting any individual conversations I had with anyone to both bodies immediately. Again, this was not done in ’07.

Larry also accuses me of “trading away” our DVD percentage for a one-time “script bonus” in 2001. “Better than nothing, but not by much.” I don’t really know where to begin in rebutting this bit of absurdityThis charge is patently absurd. Larry seems to be suggesting that increasing the DVD percentage in ’01 was simply a matter of will — that organizing “phone trees” could have solved. If it was were that simple, why didn’t Larry solve thisdo itprevent this as a member of the Negotiating Committee in ’85 that stuck us with this the crappy DVD formula in the first place? Or as a member of the ’88 Negotiating Committee that did nothing to get a better DVD formula for us during a five month strike?. Or more recently (and obviously), iIf phone trees and organizing was were all that was required to increase the DVD formula, why did the current Guild leadership give up on DVDs in ’07 at the very beginning of the strike? Give up on fighting to increase DVDs in the midst of the most impressive strike we’ve ever thrown?

Larry suggests that the 2004 negotiation that I participated in as a member of the committee is “generally regarded as a disaster.” “Generally regarded” by whom? He doesn’t say. I guess Larry believes that a “disastrous” contract is one that protects our Pension and Health Fund and allows us to maintain benefits for the largest number of members. He then belittles the gains by suggesting the companies “coughed up some extra funding for our health fund.” Coughed up some extra funding? The Health and Pension Trustees begged us to make this our highest priority, so we did. It kept our Health Fund solvent. Larry may be in a position to believe that this was a disastrous negotiation, but I doubt many members would agree. .

Larry then goes on to say “both Johns argued forcefully that we mustn’t even ask” for the companies to cough up more than they did so as to be able to cover more writers. This is an outright lie. I never made such a statement, nor would I ever make such a statement.

And this very same “disastrous” 2001 2004 negotiation is the only reason we were ableenabled us to mount an effective strike in ’07. Why? Because iIt allowed us to move our contract expiration date into the fall, far in advance of the expiration of the DGA contract and smack dab in the middle of the fall television production season. If our contract expiration date had remained in the early summer, we would not have had the leverage necessary to strike for New Media in ‘07. We would have been handed a contract by the DGA without the benefit of our muscle on the picket line forcing a better deal. This wasn’t some lucky accident., Wwe spent over a decade planning how to get our date moved into the fall, and it that planning served us well in ’07. Current leadership squandered this advantage by not insisting on our maintaining our fall date as a condition of ending the strike. They could have gotten it, they didn’t.

Larry seems to be trying very, very hard to link me with John McLean, and I suppose I should be flattered that Larry has created a new turn of phrase to describe “The TwoJohn and Johns” (although I somehow doubt it was intended to be complimentary). As President, I worked with the Executive Director. But if Larry had’d taken the time to do a little research, he would have discovered that I did not serve on the Executive Director Search Committee that hired John McLean, but that I did serve on the Executive Director Search Committee that unanimously recommended to the Board that we hire David Young.

“John and John”, I’d never heard that before. I have to give Larry credit, it’s pretty funny, but not apropos of much of anything.

Larry brings up what he refers to as my “Dear Jim” letter, suggesting that my letter to a friend that was later widely distributed on the Internetit somehow prevented us from getting a better deal from the Companies. This is yet another ridiculous statement that is not based on the factsand false allegation. Patric Verrone argued just a few weeks later that the WGA deal based on the DGA template was excellent. So which is it? Was our deal bad…or good?

He also suggested claimed that mythe email encouraged members to accept the DGA deal and “go back to work,”, further suggesting “That note, with the force of an IED, cut the legs off our negotiators.” My letter said no such thing and did no such thing. In case you didn’t read it, here is what it said after explaining the specifics of what the DGA had negotiated: –

“While the DGA deserves our thanks and appreciation for negotiating a terrific deal that will serve as a template for all three creative Guilds, none of this would have been possible without the blood, sweat and sacrifice of WGA members during this very effective strike. The Companies made a deal they didn’t want to make because of our resolve. They clearly understood how important these issues were for our members and stepped up to resolve them.

Our Negotiating Committee has numerous issues that are specific to writers that must still be resolved with the AMPTP: the term of our next contract, pension and health issues, separated rights on new media, and jurisdiction for material written for derivatives that will not be filmed (show blogs, web-only stories, etc). But this is a historic deal. We’ve won. The strike was necessary to win it and I can only assume our Negotiating Committee will be sitting down with the AMPTP by early next week to resolve these last, final issues. It’s a very good day for all of us.”

That’s it. Cut the legs off of our negotiators? Encouraged members to accept the DGA deal and go back to work? Really? I beg to differ. But you don’t have to take my word for it. If you’ve never read it, it’s still hanging around the Internet somewhere., dig Dig it up and read it for yourself.

And finally, the most personally painful of Larry’s accusations — that I mistreated the writers I was working with on The West Wing. Just because you say it, doesn’t make it so. I feel like the guy in the old story who is asked when he stopped beating his wife. This accusation is based on half-truths and rumor that Larry apparently didn’t have the time to check out.

The West Wing was a critically successful show, but never a big ratings hit. As with other expensive, critical hits, as soon as the ratings began to fall, the studio and network lowered the license fee and the show’s budget, and forced forcing us to make extensive cuts. I didn’t want to cut any jobslay off any writers, so I asked everyone to stay at their last year’s ratesforgo raises (producers, directors and writers), and I took a pay cut. Larry is correct in saying this happened after the staffing season was mostly completed, but the budget cutbacks didn’t come until after the staffing season. We all made a little less (me myself included), and but everyone kept working. One of the writers involved had extensive previous contacts in the press and called one of them. It made for a juicy story, –“the President of the Writers Guild screwing writers.” But if Larry had taken the time to contact any of the writers involved, he would have discovered that when the meager profits for the show did start to trickle in, I took all of mine and distributed them to the members of the company – including the writers.

I didn’t have to do that, just as I didn’t have to keep all of the writers on the show, just as I didn’t have to cut my own pay. I did the best I could in a tough spot, and I would do it again. There’s a reason Jeff Melvoin, the mastermind behind our excellent Showrunner Training Program, is endorsing me.

Larry’s a fighter. As a member of the negotiating committees in the strike years of ’85 and ’88, and as a committed supporter of our most recent strike in ’07, he fought for all of our rights. But to suggest that every confrontation requires a fight is, I believe, incorrect. Larry believes a Guild’s purpose is to strike, and he’s good at it. We’ve needed field generals like Larry and Patric Verrone and George Kirgo — and we’ve needed diplomats like Dan Petrie, John Furia and Del Reisman, who believed in engagement and hard-nosed negotiation. I like to think of myself as bringing a bit of both. We went to war overfought for residuals and beat back rollbacks in 1988 and new media jurisdiction in 2007. Without striking, We pursued ttough, pragmatic negotiations in 2001 and in 2004 to secured Internet rentals and saved our health fund. Both tactics work. It’s about deciding which tactic is right for that particular time.But in the end, no matter how long or strong you strike, every fight must end with a deal.

Larry’s statement gave me a reason to fight, but in the spirit of diplomacy, I’ll end with an olive branch. Larry Gelbart is a great writer, and regardless of the mistakes he’s made in the past, I know he loves his Guild. If you choose to return me to office, I can assure you I will fight hard for all of our mutual interests—yours, mine, and yes, even Larry’s.

I know that Larry respects Patric Verrone, as do I, so I’ll borrow a phrase that Patric used so often and effectively during the strike.

We’re all in this together, Larry.

If you chose to return me to office I can assure you I will fight hard for our mutual interests. And if I don’t win, I can also assure you that I won’t be suing my own Guild or filing election charges with the DOL that cost you hundreds of thousands of dollars to defend. I’m proud to be a part of a Guild that counts Larry Gelbart as a member, but this non-candidate statement was beneath him.