Sides could crib from Korshak's 'fixer' playbook

OK, I’ll admit it: I was once on reasonably friendly terms with Sidney Korshak. For the uninitiated, I should explain that Korshak, in his time, was the town’s great “fixer,” whose association over his lifetime had ranged from Al Capone to Lew Wasserman.

An attorney by trade, Korshak did a lot of his Hollywood “fixing” in the area of labor relations. Prospective strikes or random disputes between companies had a way of disappearing once Korshak made a few phone calls.

Korshak’s “take” on Hollywood was that its dealings weren’t that dissimilar from Chicago. It was all a question of “trade-offs.” The studios and networks paid their employees very well, provided superb benefits, encouraged a familial atmosphere (“family” carried complex meanings) and demanded loyalty and hard work in return.

After all, “trade-offs” had worked well in Chicago in their time — law enforcement officials understood that there was business to be done and it could all be mutually rewarding.

Korshak died 11 years ago, but had he been alive today, he would have been dismayed by the state of disarray in Hollywood. The writers and showrunners don’t seem to appreciate what management has done for them, he would have declared. And the companies similarly seem to have lost their talent at hard bargaining.

Korshak surely would have enhanced the proposed compensation for digital downloads, and had his offer not been embraced, a few individuals might have been downloaded as well. Peace would prevail.

To be sure, the entertainment industry has become a lot more complicated since Korshak’s day and his (and Wassermann’s) arbitrary way of dealing with disagreements would not be deemed acceptable. At the same time, the philosophy of “trade-offs” had its distinct merits. The town’s artisans are indeed very well paid by any rational standard. Their benefits packages are robust.

Writers understandably are concerned about the future and impatient with the companies’ position on the “new media.” Korshak’s response probably would have been, “if the writers can’t hammer out something with the companies, then let the directors have final cut.”

And this seems to be what will come to pass. The Directors Guild has its own idea of what it requires and what it can practically elicit.

By week’s end, however, the writers and their corporate confreres seem to be having a productive dialogue, with the directors next in line.

Perhaps Korshak’s intervention wouldn’t have been necessary after all. Not until the actors get to the table, that is.

Korshak was good with actors. He famously got Al Pacino sprung from a pay-or-play deal at MGM so he could do “The Godfather” at Paramount. Amazing what a phone call can do when it’s all in the “family.”

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