Schwarzenegger plays peacemaker
The writers strike — now in its 10th day with no resolution in sight — is shaping up as a long and painful one as positions harden with each passing day.
The WGA on Tuesday hit both Wall Street and Universal City — with the latter attracting a massive picket that included dozens of high-profile stars (see story, page 4).
Meanwhile, the companies’ lead negotiator Nick Counter opted for rhetoric over diplomacy, accusing the WGA of blacklisting due to its strike rules requiring members to report scab activity.
“The WGA is using fear and intimidation to control its membership,” Counter said in a statement. “Asking members to inform on each other and creating a blacklist of those who question the tactics of the WGA leadership is as unacceptable today as it was when the WGA opposed these tactics in the 1950s.”
The WGA responded with the following statement: “Mr. Counter’s charge is as offensive as it is untrue. To accuse the WGA of blacklisting, when it was we who suffered the most from it in the past, is simply Mr. Counter’s desperate attempt to divert attention from the fact that it was he who walked out of the negotiations, and it is he who refuses every day to return to the table. The WGA has an offer on the table and is ready and willing to meet with the AMPTP any day, anywhere.”
Jonathan Handel, an attorney with TroyGould who’s a former WGA counsel, said Counter’s analogy doesn’t carry weight because the strike rules are in line with typical union behavior. “His statement is as fanciful and outdated as assuming the moon has anything to do with green cheese,” Handel said.
Amid the ongoing bickering, many in Hollywood are becoming increasingly convinced it will be months before the WGA and the Alliance of Motion Picture & Television Producers hammer out a new contract.
Asked about the new Get Back in the Room blog — designed to track strike-related job losses — Counter responded by asserting the WGA doesn’t really want to make a deal. “For true negotiations to take place, there has to be some expectation that a deal can be made, but by their past actions and their current rhetoric, that certainly doesn’t appear to be the case,” he said in a statement.
Counter’s demanding the WGA put the strike on hold for a few days as a condition of resuming negotiations. But WGA leaders are insisting they can’t return to the table until the AMPTP responds more adequately to the guild’s last proposal.
“We know that we’re in it for a long haul and that it’s going to get tougher,” said WGA member Jack Kenny while on the picket line at Paramount. “But this is our last chance to get residuals for work on the Internet. If we don’t do it now, they’ll never give it to us.”
And even with temperatures outside running around 85 degrees, three dozen pickets were still on duty at the Paramount main gate Tuesday afternoon near the end of a four-hour shift. The WGA has shifted its picketing schedule at more than a dozen locations to start at 6 a.m. this week, with the aim of persuading Teamster trucks and other supporters to honor their lines.
Kenny, whose showrunner credits include NBC skein “Book of Daniel” and Fox comedy “Titus,” brandished a homemade sign featuring the photos and annual salaries of Viacom/CBS Corp. chairman Sumner Redstone ($56 million), CBS Corp. CEO Leslie Moonves ($25 million), News Corp. chief Rupert Murdoch ($26 million) and News Corp. prexy Peter Chernin ($34 million). WGA East prexy Michael Winship asserted earlier this week that the entire cost of the increases in the guild’s proposal over three years is less than $200 million.
A widely circulated video, titled “Voices of Uncertainty,” has been fueling scribe resentment this week, with more than 45,000 views as of Tuesday evening. Created by the UnitedHollywood site, “Voices” features Redstone, Murdoch, Moonves, Bob Iger and Ben Silverman extolling the financial virtues of new media.
“Viacom will double its revenues this year from digital,” Redstone asserts, followed by a typewritten caption that reads, “Writers will also double their revenues from digital from $0.00 to $0.00.”
Tuesday’s Wall Street protest included leafleting and drew Winship, “Sopranos” thesp Michael Imperioli, “30 Rock” star Tina Fey, director Tony Gilroy, Seth Meyers (“Saturday Night Live”) and William Mapother (“Lost”).
“The studios’ stubbornness hurts Wall Street,” the missive read. “What the writers are asking for is peanuts compared to the millions being lost every day by the corporations’ unwillingness to compromise.”
While California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger is pushing both sides to get back to the table, no new talks are scheduled.
Schwarzenegger spokesman Aaron McLear said the governor was talking to “people on the studio side” Tuesday after talking with the WGA on Monday. But McLear said the calls should not be taken as an indication that the governor is brokering an agreement, because unions are regulated by the federal government.
“There is really not a role for the state, as far as we can tell,” McLear said. “This is really in the federal jurisdiction. To the extent that (Schwarzenegger) can get involved, he is doing anything he can do.”
McLear declined to say what was being discussed or who Schwarzenegger was talking to. Tuesday’s conversations took place by phone, as the governor was in San Francisco at the site of the Bay Area oil spill.
“Both sides asked to talk to him, so he is fulfilling that request,” McLear said. “He is trying to get a read on what the issues are.”
The WGA East is hitting the World of Disney store in Gotham today. The WGA West is planning a march in Hollywood on Tuesday.
(Ted Johnson contributed to this report.)