Collateral damage stirs return to table

The AMPTP and the WGA will knuckle down and try again.

Feeling the pressure as the strike’s collateral damage continues to mount through layoffs of staff, cast and crew all over Hollywood, the two sides will return to the bargaining table on Nov. 26.

The scribes and the Alliance of Motion Picture & Television Producers jointly announced the restart of contract talks late Friday, following a week of back-channel moves.

Writers Guild of America picketing continues, however, and the WGA has scheduled a solidarity march in Hollywood on Tuesday.

Amid mounting layoffs and the issuance of “force majeure” notices, talks between showrunners and their respective CEOs — such as Disney’s Robert Iger, News Corp.’s Peter Chernin, CBS’ Leslie Moonves and Warner’s Barry Meyer — were also described as key in applying pressure.

A handful of the town’s top agents worked to nudge the two sides back to negotiations. WGA West prexy Patric Verrone and exec director David Young met Friday with Iger and Chernin, among others, at the Beverly Hills home of CAA partner Bryan Lourd. The sesh capped two weeks of shuttle diplomacy by senior partners at CAA, Endeavor, ICM, UTA and WMA.

Verrone attributed the return to negotiations as being a “direct result” of member efforts and, in an email, reminded scribes to remain focused on the guild’s long-term goals.

“For 12 days, I have repeated that a powerful strike means a short strike. … Now it is equally important that we prove that good news won’t slow us down, either,” Verrone said. “We must remember that returning to the bargaining table is only a start. … Accordingly, what we achieve in negotiations will be a direct result of how successfully we can keep up our determination and resolve.”

But during the past week, WGA leaders were also quietly pressured by a number of high-profile screenwriters and showrunners to get back to the table. Those members continue to maintain strong public support for their union, reasoning that any evidence of disunity would be exploited by the AMPTP.

Though labor observers said they were impressed by the WGA’s effectiveness in organizing the strike over the past two weeks, they said the guild ran the risk of derailing that momentum as job losses mount throughout Hollywood.

“My sense is WGA members are willing to fight for these issues, but they want to see the leverage from the strike exercised sooner rather than later,” one labor expert said.

The announcement that negotiations would resume at the end of Thanksgiving vacation provided the first optimistic development for much of the town since the strike began.

Intl. Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees topper Thomas Short blasted WGA leaders last week over job losses, noting that more than 50 TV series have been shut down by the strike. “The IATSE alone has over 50,000 members working in motion picture, television and broadcasting, and tens of thousands more are losing jobs in related fields,” he said.

Another impetus for the WGA to return to the table was the possibility that the Directors Guild of America would launch its talks soon if the WGA did not resume its negotiations. Once the DGA and AMPTP make a deal, it’s likely that the AMPTP will insist that the WGA deal contain similar terms.

Whether the WGA and the AMPTP can actually make a deal next week is still questionable given the hostility that has characterized relations since the strike began.

Both sides agreed to a news blackout about the talks, which may reduce the sniping.

(Josef Adalian and Cynthia Littleton contributed to this report.)

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