UPDATE: Well, the Writers Guild Of America is not yet ready to call off its labor action against Tyler Perry Studios. Because even though everyone is confident there will be a deal, it has not been inked yet. Obviously, all those strike months negotiating against the AMPTP employers has made the WGA very cautious about getting the fine points pinned down by the lawyers before declaring any settlement has been reached. But my sources say an agreement in principal calls for Tyler Perry’s two television series, House Of Payne (airing on TBS) and the upcoming Meet The Browns (the small screen version of his big screen hit) to become WGA-covered shows. This follows WGA picketing outside Perry’s big new production studio as well as the considerable bad publicity for the entertainment mogul. The writer/actor/director/producer/author/playwright has been persona non grata in most of Hollywood after the Writers Guild filed charges of unfair labor practices with the National Labor Relations Board on October 2, accusing Perry of firing more than half his writing staff on the TBS sitcom House Of Payne because of their union activity, and bargaining in bad faith with the Hollywood guild. Dozens upon dozens of the biggest producer, writer and showrunner names in scripted television even went so far as to sign an open letter bashing him for his anti-WGA activity. And good thing Barack Obama declined Perry’s invitation to the grand opening of his Tyler Perry Studios in Atlanta this month. Had he not, the Democrat endorsed by many labor unions would have been met by picket lines thrown up by the Writers Guild of America and supported by the International Brotherhood of Teamsters. (Perry is one of the Democratic presidential candidate’s staunchest supporters and prized campaigners and even forthcoming film biographer…)

What had gone on for the past six months inside Perry’s production company was kept secret by the WGA until the guild filed unfair labor practice charges with the NLRB, alleging that House of Payne unlawfully fired four writers in retaliation for their union activity. (A fifth writer quit in solidarity.) The charge also accused Perry’s company of bargaining in bad faith with the guild, which had been seeking to negotiate a contract covering the writers on Perry’s cable television series House of Payne and upcoming Meet the Browns. The four fired scribes, Kellie Griffin, Christopher Moore, Teri Brown-Jackson, and Lamont Ferrell, are all African Americans and together have written over 100 episodes.

During the dispute, a lawyer for Perry tried to claim that the writers’ firings had nothing to do with contract negotiations but were related solely to “the quality of their work”. But firings came just as House Of Payne was being syndicated which is when the big money starts to roll in, and just when the writers were working on Perry’s new comedy premiering in January on TBS. Perry’s lawyer admitted that one sticking point with the WGA had been residuals from repeats shown on broadcast TV stations. Those residuals are vital to the financial security of showbiz writers even though a pittance to the producers. Perry also refused to agree to a WGA contract giving the writers health care benefits or pensions. Perry fired the writers after warning them some weeks ago that they should “be careful about pushing the WGA deal or you could be replaced,” according to one of the axed scribes.

But because Perry owns 100% of his films and TV productions, he can as an indie forgo a guild agreement, But he himself is a Directos Guild member and he employs Screen Actors Guild members. Which makes Tyler Perry Studios’s anti-WGA actiivty so bewildering. This month the WGA told guild members that, “under Working Rule 8, members of the Writers Guild of America, West may not accept employment with any non-signatory entity, including Tyler Perry studios and all of its related entities. The guild intends to fully enforce this important policy.” At the same time, the WGA picketed outside the gala party at Tyler Perry Studios, a 60,000-square-foot production complex on 28 acres on the outskirts of Atlanta featuring a 300-seat screening room, three sound stages, and a theater. I and other media outlets publicized the names of those who crossed the picket line to attend, including many of them members of the Screen Actors Guild: Will Smith, Oprah Winfrey, Sidney Poitier, Ruby Dee, Cicely Tyson, Louis Gossett Jr, Holly Robinson Peete, Tracey Edmonds, music mogul L.A. Reid, singer John Legend, baseball legends Hank Aaron and Barry Bonds. Also, Mary J. Blige, Patti Labelle and Gladys Knight who all performed.

Which is why it took courage for SAG National Board member Anne-Marie Johnson to say this on the WGA website: “I realize that speaking publicly in support of the writers will jeopardize my recurring role, but Mr. Perry’s firing of writers, for negotiating for fair WGA coverage, including health insurance, does not speak well for a man who claims to believe in family, pride in one’s race and artistic equality. It’s time he steps up to do the right thing.” I understand that after I wrote about Johnson’s daring to criticize Perry, he called her within minutes of my posting and left a message on her voicemail assuring her she was not jeopardizing her job.

I’m glad to see this unfortunate matter settled.

  1. One Of Tyler Perry’s Union Actors Confronts Him
  2. Photos: WGA Pickets Tyler Perry Studios
  3. TV Showrunners Tell Tyler Perry: Firings For WGA Activity “Simply Not Acceptable”
  4. WGA vs Tyler Perry Productions, Contd
  5. Tyler Perry’s Alleged Role As Union Buster Becoming Big Obama Embarrassment?
  6. Tyler Perry Fires 4 Writers For Union Activity; Perry’s New Studio Picketed