Talks Friendly but Unproductive “Game of Chicken”

Tuesday was the day that the writers and the producers were supposed to start considering “new business” during their resumed contract negotiations. But, instead, they just kept focused on old business. Day 2 was supposed to be “when they really start advancing the ball forward” and “where the rubber can really meet the road,” according to its advance billing. Instead, it was the same old same old.

Again, negotiators for the AMPTP presented that “very comprehensive proposal which laid out to all the entire road map to the deal” and addressed every single issue. And, again, negotiators for the WGA listened and, again, kept getting up to caucus.

But where was the new stuff?

The reps for the studios and networks keep telling me about at least two improvements in their comprehensive proposal presented Monday compared to what was on the table back on Sunday, November 4, when the talks broke off and the strike began. “But they also feel that the writers weren’t paying attention and didn’t absorb the proposal back then. So, basically, they presented back what they proposed on November 4,” an insider in that camp explains to me . . .

Yet I’ve been repeatedly told by people in a position to know that the networks and studios do have new stuff to present, and the writers still hope that will be done sooner rather than later. But it’s truly baffling to me exactly why the AMPTP is slowing down the process when, if anything, it should be speeded up, especially with Christmas looming. On the other hand, this is a favorite negotiating tactic of AMPTP president Nick Counter: to repeatedly offer little new until the guilds are forced to negotiate against themselves by continually reducing their demands. (Which is one reason why the writers now are toying with the provocative new tactic of raising their demands at every bargaining session.)

My question is: Have the Hollywood moguls authorized Counter to delay? (Which would give fuel to the fire that the studios and networks just agreed to these talks purely for their PR value and are instead adhering to their individual timetables to declare force majeure. If the moguls think they’re badly losing the PR war now, which they are, just wait until that happens.) Or has Counter talked them into this strategy because he thinks it’ll work now just as it has in the past?

But that was then, and this is now. I’m hearing phrases like “jaw-dropping,” “mind-boggling” and “you can gape at the chutzpah” to describe Tuesday’s session. But I also hear the writers are determined not to feel frustrated or angry. “You’ve got to admire the kabuki of it,” a source told me. “You can look at this as some really sophisticated and interesting negotiating tactic, or as stonewalling. But it’s also paralysis. It’s one thing to go back but another to not move at all.”

Still, an insider is convinced that what happened at Tuesday’s session “is like two cars just sitting there getting ready for a game of chicken. Neither one wants to go first. Both sides will get past this. I don’t know when, but they will.”

I understand the writers will spend this a.m. caucusing to figure out their next move.

Look, I’m going to wait until I receive a report about Wednesday’s talks before I begin passing judgment on what’s happening, or not happening, here. But I must say that Day 2 certainly puts a damper on all those wishful-thinking rumors sweeping Hollywood and beyond — but not here at DHD — that the strike would be settled by December 8 . . .

There will continue to be a news blackout on the contract talks, meaning no end-of-day statements by either the AMPTP or the WGA, “because no one wants to be the one to derail any progress.” (My lips are sealed about the site of the meetings.) Both sides plan more negotiating sessions . . . “It’s anyone’s guess where this process goes,” said a source.

CBS Writers Considering December 10 Strike to Disrupt Network’s Presidential Debate

The WGA is saying that CBS newswriters are “strongly considering” a December 10 strike date. The timing appears to be an attempt by union leadership to disrupt CBS plans for a presidential debate the same day. That’s because several Democratic White House candidates like Barack Obama, John Edwards and Hillary Clinton have all said they won’t cross a picket line to participate in a debate. So far, no exact date is set for a strike, which was authorized by the rank and file earlier this month. The writers working for both the CBS network newscasts and local news stations have been working without a contract for two and a half years.

WGA Scolds Carson Daly for Returning “to Support Staff” and Seeking Scab Jokes

I should start this post by noting that everyone I know, young and old, doesn’t get lunkhead NBC’s Last Call host Carson Daly’s appeal. Indeed, I’ve seen chimps with better TV charisma and good looks and interviewing skills. And yet NBC at the time was so delighted about hiring him just because he dated starlets and pop stars and smarmed MTV. So the network is more enthusiastic than ever now that Daly today announced that he is the first of the late-night hosts returning to the air despite the ongoing writers’ walkout. He plans to resume taping Wednesday for new episodes that will begin airing next week. “He wanted to go back to support his staffers,” the network spokeswoman said. NBC has informed the non-writing staff of Daly’s show, as well as Jay Leno’s and Conan O’Brien’s, that they face layoffs at the end of this week unless the shows return to the airwaves. (Meanwhile, NBC is so desperate to get Leno back behind The Tonight Show desk that it’s humiliating him with “vintage” episodes that should be destroyed, not aired.)

The striking Writers Guild of America issued this statement of criticism: “We’re disappointed at Carson Daly’s decision to return to work. Mr. Daly is not a writer and not a member of the WGA, unlike other late-night hosts Jay Leno, David Letterman, Conan O’Brien, Craig Ferguson, and Jimmy Kimmel, who have all resisted network pressure and honored our writers’ picket lines. We hope he’ll change his mind and follow the lead of the other late-night hosts.”

The late-night shows have not been in production during the entire November sweeps. Since the repeats don’t generate the same ratings as original shows, the networks have to give sponsors free spots or “give backs” at a cost of millions. Ergo all the pressure from CBS and NBC and ABC on its late-night hosts. So the fact that Dave, Jay, Conan, Craig and Jimmy — all members of the WGA, which Carson is not — have stayed out much longer than anyone thought would happen (especially in light of 1988) is a major concern to the networks and a major boon to the WGA.

But back to Daly. Today he’s also accused of setting up a “joke hot line” as a strikebreaking effort — prompting the WGA to scold, “We’re especially appalled at Mr. Daly’s call for non-Guild writers to provide him with jokes.” The Smoking Gun published an e-mail purportedly from Daly detailing how he asked a small group of contacts to call in “suggested jokes” to a telephone hot line, noting that he would “play some, most, or all of your jokes on the air.” The bit, Daly stressed, was not meant to “make fun” of his striking writers. He added that his goal was to just “play a fun collage of random people trying to ‘help me out.’ ” The bit’s setup, Daly wrote in his Sunday-night e-mail, was that “the devastating writers strike” led to “A TON of my friends and family . . . calling me, leaving messages, offering their help with jokes because they know that I don’t have any writers working and hosting a late night show without them will be nearly impossible for me.”

It’s all online, barf bag not included.

For the world’s best up-to-the-minute strike coverage, go to Nikki Finke’s Deadline Hollywood Daily at

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