This post is reprinted from the blog of WGA member Isaac Ho.
Week six of the writers strike has concluded and I have some thoughts.
Next week the force majeur blood letting will begin. Most talent deals allow six weeks of suspended services due to an act of God before they can be terminated without penalty. I’ve always viewed this as the first of the unfortunate milestones the studios would let pass before any serious negotiations could begin.
I’m guessing that the next milestone would be the results of the February 2008 sweeps. By then, scripted shows will be gone and reality shows will be in heavy rotation. The third milestone will be if and when negotiations begin between the DGA and the AMPTP and we finally get a peek at the DGA’s demands and resolve.
NBC has quietly begun refunding television advertisers for underperforming in the ratings. What’s sad is that this fall season was supposed to be their ‘make goods’ from last year’s underperforming season. One can only guess where NBC’s ratings will go come January when they run out of scripted shows.
Viacom seriously needs its right hand to tell the left hand who it’s doing. While MTV Network freelancers (aka ‘permalancers’) walked off the job to protest anticipated cutbacks to their already meager benefits, Viacom reupped CBS CEO Leslie Moonves with a new contract that includes performance bonuses that would yield $30 million at the low end.
Not all multinational congloms are created equally. CBS is possibly the least vertically integrated of the congloms and most vulnerable to being gobbled up by Sony or Time Warner should there be a precipitous drop in its stock price.
In addition, what would be the fate of the nearly 400 production companies repped by the AMPTP who don’t have the deep pockets of congloms?
Peter Chernin, President of News Corp (Fox’s parent company) bragged during an earnings call with analysts:
Calling the strike “probably a positive” for the company, Chernin added: “We save more money in term deals and, you know, story costs and probably the lack of making pilots than we lose in potential advertising.”Fox has only 15 hours of prime time to fill per week while ABC, CBS and NBC have to fill 22 hours. Come January, Fox plans to air four hours per week of ratings juggernaut ‘American Idol.’ No word what their competitors will serve up in its path but chances are that the counter programming will be little more than sacrificial lambs.
Why Hollywood is like Washington, DC
No one paid any attention to GOP presidential candidate Mike Huckabee when he was polling around 2%. Now that his support has grown to 21% (putting him only 1% behind front runner Rudy Giuliani) he is everyone’s favorite target.
Likewise, the AMPTP has criticized WGA’s themed pickets and rallies as mere ‘frivolity.’ It only recently began doing so because the pickets have been effective in swaying public opinion toward the WGA by putting a face to the people responsible for writing your favorite TV and film characters. Quite possibly, it may even have put pressure on the AMPTP’s uneasy alliance.
The AMPTP’s fear of the writers’ resolve has led them to attack WGA leadership hoping to divide the membership and undermine this unity. Should the writers cut back their themed pickets and rallies while openly criticizing their leadership, then the WGA’s own rank and file will have been tricked into doing the AMPTP’s job.
What is the AMPTP’s job right now? To weaken the WGA’s bargaining position as much as possible by fostering internal conflict to expose WGA’s ultimate bottom line.
If the WGA is forced to give away all its bargaining chips before the commencement of negotiations, then it will have no where to go but down once the AMPTP is finally ready to negotiate.
What’s tragic about the AMPTP’s refusal to negotiate is that while the increased package the WGA is asking for totals $151 million over three years, a prolonged strike could cost ABC, CBS and Fox $100 million each.
You have to wonder what the AMPTP is truly afraid of when this strike can be settled, literally, with pennies.