WGA, CW clash over scribe strike

The level of rancor has risen between the Writers Guild of America and the CW over scribes’ monthlong strike on “America’s Next Top Model.”

Netlet, which has made “Model” the centerpiece of its Sept. 20 launch, told its more than 200 affiliates Thursday that the walkout — which started July 21 — won’t cause any problems for the show in this season or next. That provoked a dismissive response from the WGA West, which has organized picketing outside the show’s production offices every weekday for the past five weeks.

The missive, from CW chief operating officer John Maatta, came in response to a recent letter from the WGA to affils warning of the strike’s consequences. Maatta noted that the union editors repped by the Intl. Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees are editing segments.

“Contrary to the WGA’s letter, the current labor dispute involving the show’s story department will not impact the seventh edition of ‘America’s Next Top Model,’ ” Maatta wrote. “Principal photography of this cycle has been completed; episodes are being edited (by IATSE editors) as part of the post-production process; and the delivery of episodes is on schedule.”

Maatta also pledged the skein can proceed without the striking scribes if there’s an eighth season, though he wasn’t specific as to details.

“If this proves to be a lengthy dispute that has not been resolved by the onset of production for the next edition of the series, a contingency plan will be developed and whatever steps necessary will be taken to continue delivering episodes that maintain the show’s high standards,” he said.

In response, the WGA West shot back, “Maatta’s letter clearly shows that the CW is on the defensive and having to address the concerns of nervous affiliates.”

The protests are designed to embarrass the CW, Anisa Prods. and exec producer Ken Mok by highlighting the lack of residuals, salary minimums and pension and health care benefits for the dozen writers on the show.

WGA West interim exec director David Young notified affils on July 26 that most of the episodes were unfinished and urged them to intervene with the netlet.

“Many of the writers of ‘America’s Next Top Model’ have worked on the show for several seasons and are concerned for the quality of this season if the show is produced without them,” he added.

Two of those scribes, Sara Sluke and Kai Bowe, told Daily Variety this week that the show would have needed to stay in production until November to complete the current season. The writers said six of the episodes were close to completion, two were in the process of being edited and the remaining four episodes slated for the current season had not seen any writing/editing work yet to shape footage as of July 21.

Maatta continued to assert that the writers and the WGA should take the issue to the Natl. Labor Relations Board so that the federal agency could conduct an election — a time-consuming step that would take many months to complete.

In response to that point, the WGA noted that other nets such as Fox have made deals with the WGA through the “tried and true industry practice” of recognizing the union’s jurisdiction once a majority of employees sign authorization cards. “It’s unfortunate that the CW cannot,” the guild added.

Banks has stayed neutral in the dispute and issued her first statement about it Thursday, noting she’s a member of SAG and AFTRA.

“I respect the desire of any employee of ‘America’s Next Top Model’ who wants to be unionized; however, this is not a decision I control,” Banks said. “This is an industrywide issue between the networks, studios and unions.  I hope this matter is resolved as quickly as possible and on terms agreeable to all parties concerned.”

The WGA has yet to sign any reality show. The protests reflect the more aggressive stance taken toward employers since last fall’s election. WGA West members installed a slate that had campaigned on a platform of beefing up the guild’s spending on organizing.

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