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WGA taps 17 writers for talks

Guild appoints negotiating committee

The Writers Guild of America has taken the first formal step toward the bargaining table, tapping 17 scribes as members of its negotiating committee.

Committee chief John Bowman told Daily Variety he expects negotiations to start in July and stressed that he’s not expecting a strike.

“We expect a successful negotiation because our committee members are working members,” he noted. “We’ll be practical but tough.”

Panel members include such heavyweights as “Law & Order: Special Victims Unit” showrunner Neal Baer, “Desperate Housewives” showrunner Marc Cherry, “Dreamgirls” writer-director Bill Condon, “Syriana” writer-director Stephen Gaghan and “Hotel Rwanda” writer-director Terry George.

Bowman said he agreed to chair the panel due to two key areas — how writers are to be paid from the fast-expanding array of digital platforms, and the question of WGA jurisdiction in such areas as reality TV. “This is the most important negotiation we’ve had in many years,” he added.

Tuesday’s announcement by WGA West prez Patric Verrone and WGA East prexy Chris Albers puts into motion the guild’s constitutionally mandated process under which the panel will spend two months generating a “pattern of demands” to serve as a guideline for negotiators. That list of demands then will be sent to the membership for approval, a step allowing the WGA to start formal bargaining.

The WGA’s current three-year deal expires on Halloween.

Other members of the negotiating committee include Carlton Cuse, David A. Goodman, Carl Gottlieb, Susannah Grant, Carol Mendelsohn, Marc Norman, Shawn Ryan, Robin Schiff and Ed Solomon for the WGA West. Along with George, Brian Koppelman and Rafe Yglesias are reps for the WGA East.

Bowman is in his second two-year term on the WGA West board and served on the 2004 negotiating committee. Credits include “Saturday Night Live,” “It’s Garry Shandling’s Show,” head writer on “In Living Color,” “Martin” (creator-exec producer), “Murphy Brown” (exec producer) and “Cedric the Entertainer Presents” (creator).

Goodman, Mendelsohn and Schiff are also WGA West board members. Mendelsohn, Verrone and Weiss served on the 2004 negotiating committee.

“The depth and breadth of this committee should show our membership, our sister unions and the industry at large our widespread commitment to making a fair and forward-thinking deal for writers,” Verrone said in a statement. “This is an amazing roster of talented people.”

“This committee is made up of leaders from all areas of our industry,” Albers said. “These writers, and writers like them, are responsible for many of our most respected and profitable films and television shows. Now they are banding together to fight for a fair and comprehensive contract for all writers.”

The announcement comes a year and a half after guild members opted for slates headed by Verrone and Albers that promised to take a more assertive tack at negotiations following disappointment by members over the inability of the guild to improve the DVD residuals formula at the 2004 negotiations. That’s led to increasingly testy relations with the Alliance of Motion Picture & Television Producers, which serves as the negotiating arm for studios and nets.

Three months ago, the guild spurned an offer by the AMPTP to launch negotiations in January, asserting that the companies were unwilling to address key issues such as digital downloads at the early negotiations. That led to a declaration by AMPTP president Nick Counter that relations with the WGA had reached the lowest point since the five-month stirke in 1988.

Verrone has insisted that avoiding early talks enhances the WGA’s bargaining position and is in line with the guild’s past practice. He and Albers have insisted that they don’t want a strike and that it’s the AMPTP that’s promoting strike fears.

For his part, Counter has asserted that the issues facing negotiators — with an array of digital delivery platforms emerging — are so complex that negotiations need to start as soon as possible. He’s insisted the delay puts studios and nets in a difficult spot since they have no alternative but to start planning for a possible work stoppage — particularly with May’s network upfront meetings approaching.

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