Industry gloomy on quick resolve

With both sides back at the barricades, many believe the writers strike won’t be resolved until March at the earliest.

Optimism for a quick resolution as negotiations resume Tuesday has faded to nearly nonexistent. In the aftermath of last week’s lifting of the news blackout about the talks, each side played the blame game and stressed how insulted it’s been by the other’s recent conduct.

The WGA has eased up on its hardline stance in one area — it granted a waiver for writing on Sunday night’s telecast of the Kennedy Center Honors.

The Guild also granted a waiver for Elizabeth Taylor’s AIDS benefit at Paramount this past Saturday night.

In a statement, Verrone said, “The WGAW lowered our picket line because this worthy event is happening solely through the efforts and underwriting of Dame Elizabeth Taylor, who is not only a longtime member of the Screen Actors Guild, but an outspoken supporter of the Writers Guild in our struggle to achieve a fair share of all media – new and old – for our members and all members of the Hollywood talent community.”

Leaders of the Writers Guild of America insist that companies need to pony up far more in new-media compensation than was contained in their proposed New Economic Partnership. Meanwhile, CEOs are still bristling over how the new offer — valued at $130 million by the AMPTP — was slammed and dismissed out of hand by WGA leaders on Thursday night.

“This is going to set the tone of Internet pay for all eternity, so we have to get that right,” WGA negotiating committee chair John Bowman said during a weekend interview.

Picket lines resume today at major lots as the strike starts its fifth week. The WGA West said Sunday that members of the negotiating committee and board will be at all studios during all shifts.

One conglom topper said in frustration, “These people (WGA) are acting like they want to go to rallies more than they want to make a deal.”

There’s still a slim hope that the WGA and the Alliance of Motion Picture & Television Producers can make enough progress this week to keep moving toward a deal — aided by the shuttle diplomacy efforts of CAA topper Bryan Lourd. Under such a best-case scenario, the WGA will make a counteroffer Tuesday or Wednesday that could start the actual give-and-take of bargaining and perhaps conclude a tentative agreement by Christmas.

But the emerging consensus is that the two sides remain so far apart that the WGA talks will collapse soon. That would open the door for the AMPTP to start negotiations with the Directors Guild of America, which indicated before the strike that it was nearly ready to begin bargaining.

“If we should decide to schedule an ‘early negotiation,’ we will be ready to go,” the DGA told its members on Oct. 24.

Over the weekend, the town was still mulling Thursday’s developments. These included WGA leaders’ insistence that rumors had so overtaken the talks that it was essential to lift the blackout.

“Our inability to communicate with our members has left a vacuum of information that has been filled with rumors, both well intentioned and deceptive,” said WGA West prexy Patric Verrone and WGA East prez Michael Winship. “Among the rumors was the assertion that the AMPTP had a groundbreaking proposal that would make this negotiation a ‘done deal.'”

The missive went on to blast the AMPTP proposal as a “massive rollback.” The WGA’s key objections include the $250 fixed residual for a year’s reuse on streaming, which is not anywhere near the $20,000 currently paid for a rerun on networks; the fact that jurisdiction over original programming for the Internet had not been granted; and no change to the residual formula on downloaded programming from the current DVD rate.

WGA leaders indicated that they needed to break until Tuesday because they were caught off-guard by the fixed-rate residual proposal. Initial reaction indicates they will respond by contending that payment for streaming needs to be tied to use.

Meanwhile, execs say they don’t understand why the WGA opted to take a relatively long break from the talks with the strike nearly a month old, or why it used such dismissive language in Thursday night’s statement, especially because, execs believe, top showrunners are getting antsy about the slow pace of talks.

Execs also talk about the lack of showbiz negotiating experience of WGA West exec director David Young.

“None of these people have ever concluded a deal of this magnitude,” said one topper. Execs have also expressed disappointment over being painted as being uncaring about the biz when, they say, they’ve all come up through the ranks.

One exec expressed particular disappointment over the WGA’s sudden departure Thursday.

“This does not help move things along,” he said. “In bargaining, you need to build the process before you get to the point of give and take, creating a sort of snowball effect like at a seventh grade dance. What’s happening here is that every time we make a move, they break off talks, so that’s a real momentum killer.”

For now, the CEOs don’t anticipate taking more drastic steps, such as going to the bargaining table themselves or bypassing the WGA leadership and taking their case directly to the members.

Despite the length of the strike, no organized public opposition within the WGA has yet emerged, and members appear to be strongly backing their leadership on the issue of coverage for work on the Internet.

A widely distributed email from “Without a Trace” creator Hank Steinberg urged members to view the AMPTP pronouncements with a jaundiced eye and keep picketing. “We’re still in good shape to make a fair deal, and we shouldn’t allow their tactics to dampen our spirits or forget what it is we’re striking over in the first place,” he said.

In New York, picketing resumes Tuesday at News Corp. headquarters at Sixth Avenue and 48th Street.

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