Words of wisdom on the labor issue
For weeks, I’ve contemplated how to bring labor peace to Hollywood, even if that means attempting to unite the parties in their common hatred of me. So here goes:The studios are greedy, profit-hiding liars. The directors only care about themselves, the writers have a persecution complex because they’re not directors, and the actors are bat-shit crazy. Assuming that doesn’t do the trick, though, waiting for a studio chief to emerge as the great peacemaker, a la the late Lew Wasserman, probably isn’t feasible in this day and age, where playing the hero risks unleashing waves of scorn. Nor will agents likely be embraced as third-party mediators because they have a dog in the fight — inspiring skepticism among the studios and clients, who will doubtless fear being sold out to keep the lucre of commissions flowing. Then I noticed a promo for “Dr. Phil,” in which the imposing host — who recently took a break from philandering husbands and doormat wives to offer Britney Spears unsolicited life advice — brought together Fred Goldman, whose son Ron was murdered along with Nicole Brown Simpson; and the ghost writer of “If I Did It,” O.J. Simpson’s book regarding those much- disputed lethal events 13 years ago. Suddenly I realized the answer might be hiding in plain sight, all 6’4″ of him — and conveniently, already drawing a paycheck from CBS. Dr. Phil McGraw’s plainspoken counseling has made him the biggest thing to hit syndication since Oprah Winfrey, who, not coincidentally, discovered the Texan and put him on air. So I approached his people to ask if he’d try his hand at breaking down the barriers conspiring to prevent these high-stakes negotiations from reaching an accord. Alas, Dr. Phil passed, with a spokeswoman saying he was too busy. My guess is he either feared I was going to goof on him or was weak from following that diet he’s been pushing. Fortunately, the “Dr. Phil” website is rife with pearls of wisdom about how to handle strained relationships, which is precisely what the studios and writers need. After all, media moguls like referring to talent as their “creative partners,” so why shouldn’t Dr. Phil’s techniques be applicable to Hollywood’s most fractious coupling, where trust has been frayed by what scribes see as the conglomerates’ cheatin’ ways. According to Dr. Phil: “If you wallow in resentment and refuse to forgive and move on, you will tear up your own life and your relationship.” Translation: Yes, the writers got screwed on sharing in DVD revenues. Gotta get over it and look ahead. “You can’t be self-righteous or obsessed with control and do what’s best for the relationship.” If studio heads really love this business, they’ll recognize that ceding a little ground now might pay off in more harmony down the road. “Two partners who are moving toward each other, rather than both trying to seek safety from pain, have a dramatically improved chance of reconciliation.” You know that studio posture about eliminating residuals? It’s a clever bit of ju-jitsu, but as a bargaining tactic, it’s a nonstarter. “You must no longer use threats as a lever to manipulate and control your partner. By doing so, you are setting a clear limit on the places spirited discussion with your partner will not go.” Saber-rattling might impress the guilds’ rank and file (especially those who haven’t worked in years anyway), but it’s not necessarily productive. In fact, all that tough rhetoric has made it more difficult for the actors and writers guilds’ leadership to reach a deal without looking as though they caved. “Solid relationships are built on sacrifice and caring, not power and control. Competitiveness can drain the joy, confidence and productivity out of any relationship.” The intangible fallout from another bitter, protracted negotiation could inflict nearly as much damage as the tangible toll. Both sides will have to bend somewhat to avoid that. “By being honest about your emotions, you base your relationship upon integrity rather than lies and deception.” OK, this won’t happen, but it certainly sounds nice, doesn’t it? As for those that might be reluctant to heed Dr. Phil, as syndicated autocrats go, you could do plenty worse. He’s a big pussycat compared to Judge Judy.