74% of Americans unaffected by work stoppage

With writers strike activity winding down for the holidays, the WGA and AMPTP engaged Thursday in one last round of pre-Christmas verbal volleying and PR spin.

A day after taking its case to Los Angeles City Hall, the guild touted a poll showing strong public support for its positions. In response, the AMPTP shot back by pointing to another survey concluding that most Americans don’t have an opinion about the strike and that the work stoppage has caused no impact on the viewing habits of 74% of Americans.

Thursday’s developments came with two more latenight talkers — Comedy Central’s “The Daily Show With Jon Stewart” and “The Colbert Report” — announcing they’ll return to the air next month. That brings to seven the number of shows coming back with fresh segments, albeit without writers.

The WGA has also granted a waiver to Film Independent to allow the org to hire WGA writers, including emcee Rainn Wilson, for the Feb. 23 Spirit Awards. The ceremony will be broadcast live on IFC, with an edited rebroadcast airing later that evening on AMC.

The guild previously granted waivers to the Kennedy Center Honors and the SAG Awards. The WGA announced earlier this week that it had turned down waiver requests for the Golden Globes’ Jan. 13 ceremony and from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences for use of clips during the Feb. 24 Oscarcast.

The WGA noted that Film Independent had asked for the waiver prior to the Nov. 5 strike. And it implied that it won’t give a waiver to the Globes or the Oscars unless it’s negotiating again with the AMPTP.

“The best way to get the awards season back on track is for the AMPTP to return to the bargaining table to negotiate a fair deal with the Writers Guild to get this town back to work,” the WGA said.

Negotiations between the scribes and studios collapsed two weeks ago when the WGA rejected the AMPTP’s demand that six of its proposals be removed as a condition for continuing bargaining.

With no new talks set and the DGA expected to schedule talks early next month, the WGA trumpeted a USA Today/Gallup poll showing that 60% of Americans support the guild, while 14% favor the studios. The results were based on a phone survey of 1,011 adults taken Dec. 14 through Sunday.

Survey also showed 38% of primetime viewers say they’ll watch less TV now that few original episodes of sitcoms and dramas remain. Pollsters found 49% saying they’re more likely to watch reruns, 40% plan to watch reality series and other programming not disrupted by the strike and 26% are more likely to buy or rent DVDs of series from past seasons.

“The American people overwhelmingly support the writers because they realize our cause is just and our proposal is fair: When we create valuable content for the companies, we deserve to be paid,” the WGA said. “It’s time for these gigantic media conglomerates to listen to the voice of the people, return to the bargaining table and get serious about negotiating an honest deal that would put everyone back to work.”

Citing the poll’s 38% figure of those who say they’re watching less TV, the guild said the media companies are now kicking their own customers out the door.

“That can’t be good for business,” the WGA added. “We ask them to come back to the negotiating room and work with us in designing a fair and reasonable deal that would end the strike. The people have spoken. The writers are waiting.”

The AMPTP responded by citing an Internet-based survey, conducted earlier this month by TNS, showing that the strike has caused no impact on the viewing habits of 74% of Americans, with 22% watching less TV.

“As they careen from pointless tactic to puzzling tactic to try to explain the inexplicable — why it is that they derailed the negotiations by focusing on the jurisdictional issues at the expense of the core financial issues — the WGA’s organizers must have missed the TNS survey,” the AMPTP said. “One could only wonder how public attitudes toward the writers would be reflected if the public was asked how they feel about the writers making good on their organizer’s quip to wreak havoc on the industry, especially in light of the severe economic harm being imposed on the Los Angeles region and, in particular, the below-the-line workers.”

Other TNS findings: 34% support the writers vs. 2% who side with the majors, and almost 20% of respondents do not support the strike because they do not know why writers are striking.

“While the effect of the strike has not affected mainstream viewing habits, the decline is quickly approaching,” said Don Ryan, VP of TNS Technology and Media. “We will begin to see an overall cut in TV viewing by 10%-20% in the next few weeks, once many shows begin airing reruns of recent episodes.”

In New York, the WGA East is planning to put leaflets outside Virgin Megastore and Apple Store on Saturday to inform consumers about how purchases such as DVDs and digital downloads of movies and TV shows are central issues in the contract fight.

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