By Michael Goldstein
By Dennis Romero
By Sarah Fenske
By Matthew Mullins
By Patrick Range McDonald
By LA Weekly
By Dennis Romero
By Simone Wilson
What else is missing is a Big Name (to help solve this mess, as Lew Wasserman used to do; but he’s now worm food). Since then, überlawyer Ken Ziffren ended the last WGA strike. Bob Daly, the ex–Warner Bros. chairman, stopped a WGA walkout from even starting in 2001. This time around, the names I’m hearing include those two plus Ziffren’s law partner, Skip Brittenham, and even Governator Arnold Schwarzenegger. Also being floated are ex-Sony and ex-Paramount bigwig Jonathan Dolgen and ex-Viacom and ex-Universal mogul Frank Biondi, who both know the business inside and out. You know, and I know, the decision will be made (if at all) on the basis of who will offend the least number of people involved, moguls and writers alike.
Meanwhile, the 5,507 ballots cast by the WGA members was the highest turnout in the guild’s history — and underscored the passion and solidarity of the writers to win concessions from AMPTP. WGA West president Patric Verrone, himself an animation writer, stated after the vote, “Writers do not want to strike, but we are resolute and prepared to take strong, united action to defend our interests.” The writers badly want the studios and networks to understand the degree to which they’re a unified guild, in no mood to be pushed around on the dozens of other rollbacks remaining besides residuals. The writers’ negotiating team, for PR purposes alone, needs to bring members a very real new income stream this time around, and not play dead on the most difficult issues like new media just because it’s hard to bargain. True, no one knows right now what new-media revenues will be, but the guild’s current rallying cry is “Remember the DVDs!”
This WGA team isn’t gonna fold like the previous administrations, because this time around the writers are really in charge, not the hyphenates. (I still marvel at the chutzpah of John Wells, who won the WGA presidency in 1999, even though he was the moneybags TV producer behind ER and West Wing. He then split the Writers Guild into haves and have-nots, and failed in 2001 to stand firm on any of the hard issues, ensuring in the process that no strike would interrupt his own wheelbarrows of cash. Then, shortly after the WGA pact was negotiated, Wells wouldn’t honor the provisions in his West Wing writers’ contracts for increased pay and promotions in the third season.)
There’s no question that the current WGA leadership — Patric Verrone, Dave Young, John Bowman — outsmarted the moguls, who thought there wouldn’t be a separate WGA labor action until June, when SAG’s contract came due. The producers primarily planned for that timing, so studios and networks found themselves suddenly scrambling to lock down projects and productions they thought had several more months of unfettered development before a walkout. Worse for the moguls are the strict strike rules laid down by the WGA organizers that would shut down all production. No wonder AMPTP’s Nick Counter threw a temper tantrum and threatened a lawsuit. The writers are onboard this as well: At Friday’s meeting, no writers asked questions trying to find ways to wiggle (more like, weasel) out of the consequences of a strike. But there was also a chilling recognition that the producers can still tell the WGA to go fuck themselves, strike authorization or not.
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