Strike talk echoes alarms from years past

Same old story for veteran writers

For veteran writers in Hollywood, it’s a time of familiar anxiety.

Studios and networks complain that the Writers Guild contract demands are unreasonable and unrealistic.

“We’ve been down this road before,” notes Larry Mintz, whose credits include “Sanford and Son,” “Mork and Mindy,” “Family Matters” and “Angie.” “It’s the same lament that the companies have been making for the past 50 years, going back to their saying that residuals were going to bankrupt them.”

Those concerns have been underlined as the WGA preps for negotiations on a three-year deal to replace the current contract, which expires on Halloween. Talks start July 16, with both sides focusing on how to deal with complex issues surrounding how to pay writers for reuse of their work on the Internet and other platforms along with work done specifically for the digital world.

The WGA’s already staked out its key position — writers must get a bigger slice of the burgeoning revenues from digital platforms — and the companies have contended that it’s too early to hammer out which delivery system will be dominant. And they’ve already warned that the entire residuals structure needs revamping.

For Mintz, the scenario’s reminiscent of the same reasonings used during the 1980s. “The argument they sold us then was that the cable business and homevideo weren’t going to amount to anything, which turned out to be a bill of goods,” he adds.

Leadership of the WGA has shifted toward the more assertive side of the union in a manifestation of frustration with the 2004 contract and its lack of advancement on the key issue of DVD residuals. Irma Kalish, a longtime board member, is troubled by the notion of a work stoppage that would have digital downloads as its centerpiece.

“I think it’s a problem to go out on strike over something that doesn’t really have a business model,” she notes.

Her husband, Rocky Kalish, is just as skeptical, adding, “At this point, I’m not really clear as to why there would be a reason to strike.”

Another older writer believes the guild leaders don’t share his concerns. “My focus is pretty simple — I want to get work for me, while the guild’s focus has been signing up writers who aren’t covered so they can have a more massive club.”

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