Beware the tides of March

Biz braces as do-or-die dates loom in labor talks

March 1 is looming large on calendars all over Hollywood.

For studio honchos, it’s the last date to get cameras rolling on major movie projects to avoid the whammy of a possible SAG strike in July.

That’s not to say SAG will go on strike, but those running the studios are preparing for that contingency.

For the TV biz, do-or-die time may be even sooner — Jan. 1. At that point, network brass will have had to start locking in series renewals and costly pilots (shot through April), or arranging a TV lineup devoid of SAG involvement (more news, sports, reality and gameshows).

Everyone, in short, is quietly putting pins in their calendars as to when they need to act to keep the town from shutting down.

The prospect of a strike, many are now realizing, could consume Hollywood by spring, especially if there’s been no appreciable progress at the bargaining table. That prospect was made more real by the acrimony that characterized the initial round of talks between producers and the Writers Guild in July.

The WGA contract with the AMPTP expires Oct. 31, but many expect that no deal will be reached by then. Rather than go on strike, the WGA will probably tell members to keep working under terms of the expired contract; and rather than locking the writers out, the companies will then try to bargain with SAG and the DGA on contracts to replace their current deals — both of which expire June 30.

At that point members of all three guilds could take to the barricades — though many expect the DGA to have stepped up to make a deal by then.

The tension isn’t just between the companies and the guilds: There are already fissures within the studio and network phalanx itself.

A number of studio execs were taken aback by the notion of a proposed rollback in residuals for all the unions. That’s despite the fact that the gambit has been backed enthusiastically and publicly by such leading lights as Les Moonves, Barry Meyer and Marc Graboff.

Apparently, there is bickering within the producer ranks over how to publicize their positions — and, more importantly, just how hard a line they should take on the issue of residuals.

Still, all the saber-rattling on both sides of the labor talks could just be posturing.

“It’s a classic opening,” one veteran exec notes. “You ask for something unreasonable so that you can look reasonable when you come off that at the point that you’re ready to make a deal.”

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