Presidents see no buildup of product
Stockpiling? What stockpiling?Apparently looking to calm writers anxious about a potential strike, WGA leaders sent a message to members Monday insisting they’ve found no evidence that producers, studios and networks are building up their stocks of scripts as contract negotiations loom. The guild message — penned by WGA East president Chris Albers and WGA West prexy Patric Verrone — also suggested a strike could be easily averted if producers directly address the WGA’s needs for “fair compensation.” The missive, sent to 13,000 Writers Guild members, comes at a time when the networks are being particularly secretive about their plans due to concerns that they’ll tip off rivals in advance of May’s upfront meetings in New York. But there is anecdotal evidence suggesting that some networks and producers have, in fact, been quietly tapping current TV writers to pen scripts for next season — a possible violation of the current Guild contract. And on the film side, sales of feature specs and pitches have, indeed, accelerated in recent months. “It’s not as rampant as in the past, but it’s a good time to be out selling material, and the possibility of a strike is one more way to nudge people along,” one lit agent said. The WGA message dealt only with TV shows; it didn’t address accelerated feature development and early pickups of shows for next season or a shorter summer hiatus — strategies that would allow for extra episodes. Albers and Verrone dubbed stockpiling a “scare tactic” and “myth” in the missive. “Network showrunners are telling us they couldn’t stockpile even if they wanted to, but that they aren’t even being asked,” Albers and Verrone said. “Pilot production is moving at its typical speed, and there is no increase in the number of new reality shows being ordered. Even high-budget cable shows that could be used to fill a network programming void are showing no signs of accelerated production.” The duo’s message asked WGA members to notify the guild should they discover any efforts to stockpile. “But until we have evidence of stockpiling, it is best to assume that rumors are just that — rumors,” the pair said. The missive’s tone was far milder than that of previous messages about negotiations, which are expected to start in July, but still contained a warning about a strike: “If our employers are as serious as we are about making a reasonable deal that protects our legitimate interests and provides fair compensation for the talent community, they will have no need to stockpile, for there will be no need for a strike,” Albers and Verrone said. The presidents also asserted that WGA research shows stockpiling doesn’t work, based on an analysis of employment and production data for he year 2001 showing that production ramped up in the months before the contract expiration date and that there was a slight slowdown in the months after the contract was settled. “However, in spite of the different timing of production, the overall economic impact was negligible,” the pair insisted. But the message contained no specific data about 2001, when the WGA settled in early May and SAG settled two months later. Albers and Verrone also asserted that even if the industry tried to stockpile, it would “unlikely” have any meaningful success this year. “The fact is that it is rarely effective to bank unproduced TV scripts, because the staff of writers will be needed to rewrite them during production,” they said. “There is a high cost to speeding up production of the episodes themselves, and this is often not possible because of practical limitations to time and talent availability. Accordingly, TV stockpiling is rarely cost effective and often physically impossible. This may be why we are hearing from our members that stockpiling is not occurring.” The missive also trumpeted the recent deal the WGA made for coverage of Webisodes for CBS daytime soaps “As the World Turns” and “The Young and the Restless.” The DGA and AFTRA had already made deals covering the Webisodes before the WGA made its pact. Leaders of the WGA and SAG met Friday to plot strategy for the upcoming talks, with a focus on boosting members’ share of revenues generated by new-media platforms. The WGA’s decision late last year to brush off early talks and wait until summer to start negotiations has been a sore point for the Alliance of Motion Picture & Television Producers. The AMPTP has long complained that such delays destabilize showbiz due to heightened uncertainty over the prospect of a work stoppage. In December, Verrone hit back at the AMPTP over the org’s complaints, accusing the AMPTP of duplicity, histrionics, bullying, manipulating public opinion, ignoring history and refusing to negotiate over new technologies.