Sides play blame game after negotiations fail

As if anyone needed proof, the WGA and the studios are now further apart than they were 11 days ago when the strike started.

Since then, the two sides have blasted away, blaming each other for the Nov. 4 collapse of negotiations — even though both sides were moving toward a deal at that point. Indeed, each side has been relentlessly attacking the other’s deal points.

No talks have taken place since then, and nothing’s been scheduled, deepening the town’s gloom over the prospect of a long and painful strike.

WGA leaders remain angry over what they see as a lack of substantive response by the Alliance of Motion Picture & Television Producers after the guild took its DVD residuals increase off the table.

WGA West prexy Patric Verrone’s indicated that for his union to restart negotiations, it must receive an assurance that the companies will offer more in new media than they did on Nov. 4.

As for the companies, AMPTP president Nick Counter said he needs to be convinced that the guild wants to make a deal. He’s moved away from last week’s stance that the guild would have to stop striking in order to return to the table.

“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,” Counter said in his most recent statement.

Both sides went to the mat again on Thursday as the AMPTP took out ads in the Los Angeles Times and the New York Times. The ads — in the form of an open letter — essentially asserted that guild leaders have been less than forthcoming in explaining the issues to members.

“We believe common ground can be found once reasonable people take the time to understand the issues,” the AMPTP concluded. “We hope this letter can help move us all closer to that goal.”

That doesn’t appear likely, if the WGA’s response — which labeled the ads as “patronizing” — is any gauge. “Stop spinning and wasting money on expensive ads, AMPTP,” it said. “Come to the table and bargain.”

The AMPTP went after the guild’s proposal on digital downloading, noting it’s seeking a 700% hike on electronic sell-through and more than a 200% increase on Internet “pay per view.”

“There is no way that these increases can be deemed reasonable,” the AMPTP declared.

The WGA responded that the proposed increase translates to 2.1¢ per download and 2.5¢ on Internet PPV. “The AMPTP, as the saying goes, uses numbers the way a drunk uses a lamppost — for support more than illumination,” the WGA said. “Do the math, and you’ll see what we’re asking for is nothing more than a small, fair, respectful share of revenues.”

The AMPTP also noted that it has offered to pay writers a percentage of the revenues the producer receives from licensing streamed content on the Internet, but slammed the WGA proposal since it asks that writers get a percentage of what the Internet site owners receive in ad revenues, even if producers are getting none of that money themselves.

“Simply put, what the Writers Guild is asking for has no precedent,” the AMPTP said. “No labor agreement in history has given writers, actors or directors a portion of advertising dollars. There is no way that this change can be deemed reasonable.”

The WGA responded by noting that the AMPTP offer would allow streamed content to be shown without residuals for the first six weeks after its initial broadcast release.

“In other words, the time period during which there would be the most demand from the public and the most bang for the advertising buck,” the guild said. “After that time is over, they would throw us a fraction of the bone of whatever’s left.”

In other developments on Thursday, Ron Howard joined picketers in the rain Thursday outside Viacom headquarters in Manhattan, and Eddie Murphy left the set of “Nowhereland” in Pacific Palisades in response to WGA pickets, according to his publicist.

Democratic presidential contender John Edwards will become the first candidate to visit the Writers Guild picket lines outside NBC’s Burbank headquarters at 1:45 p.m. today.

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