Guild leaders eye weekend talks

With the DGA deal serving as an impetus, leaders of the Writers Guild of America have agreed to meet informally with top execs from the majors to discuss the resumption of bargaining.

No timetable’s been set and neither side issued any official comment but several people familiar with the conversations confirmed that the meetings are expected to take place within a few days.

It’s probable that the moguls will include News Corp. president Peter Chernin.

The top execs issued the invite to meet informally to the WGA leaders on Thursday, minutes after announcing the DGA deal, and have indicated that the guild will be offered similar terms to those in the directors pact. The WGA has scheduled a meeting of its negotiating committee for Saturday.

No formal talks have taken place between the WGA and the Alliance of Motion Picture & Television Producers since Dec. 7 when negotiations collapsed after the AMPTP demanded that the WGA remove half a dozen proposals as a condition of continued bargaining.

Reaction to the deal’s included an effort by former WGA West board member Craig Mazin urging guild members to contact the leadership and ask that they seek to make a deal along the lines of the DGA pact.

Mazin suggested sending a message that reads as follows — “Thanks to your tireless efforts in running a successful strike, the DGA was able to close on a deal they would have never otherwise achieved. Thank you! Now that our combined efforts have led to a deal we can live with, I’m urging you to get the same deal for us as expeditiously as possible. Our collective sacrificed worked. It’s time to complete our victory and get back to work.”

“ER” exec producer John Wells told Daily Variety he’s very impressed by the deal, and says the template provided by it could produce an end to the writers’ strike within two weeks.

“This is a genuinely landmark deal,” Wells said Friday. “I’ve been involved in negotiations for 20 years. This is the best deal I’ve seen that anyone’s been able to negotiate.”

Informal talks among groups of scribes have been going on since the DGA deal was announced Thursday, and are expected to continue over the Martin Luther King holiday weekend.

It’s also believed backchannel conversations between key WGA members and CEOs and top execs from the AMPTP companies have already begun, possibly paving the way for a formal resumption of negotiations.

Wells said scribes should be happy about the gains made by directors. “This was the deal everyone was hoping for, plus a little more,” he said.

He made it clear the WGA strike was a key factor in the helmers’ gains.

“The DGA took all the leverage the writers gave them and negotiated a hell of deal,” he said. “I didn’t think we’d be anywhere close to this.”

Wells cautioned that are still important issues that need to be resolved on matters that weren’t addressed by the directors.

There’s the thorny matter of “separated rights,” for instance. Scribes are looking to figure out how they get credited and paid when work they do on a webisode of a show such as “The Office” or “Lost” is later turned into a movie or book.

Still, assuming the WGA and AMPTP begin formal talks quickly, Wells thinks scribes could be pounding their keyboards before Valentine’s Day.

“This deal should be done in two weeks,” he said.

Meanwhile, Wells underlined his embrace of the DGA deal in a letter to a colleague that’s been widely circulated around the Net.

In that missive, DGA also noted what he called an “underreported” section of the deal that he found particularly vital. Helmers were able to get the studios to agree to open up their books to let the WGA look at the details of their new-media deals and contracts.

“This has never happened before,” Wells wrote. “It will allow the DGA to analyze whether the terms of this new deal are working and if the revenues are being properly reported. This is another extraordinary aspect of this deal and a cause for celebration.”

While a number of major showrunners have expressed their support of the DGA pact, the accord hasn’t been greeted with universal acclaim.

Message boards on a number of WGA strike-related Websites are filled with slew of comments denouncing the deal, or expressing serious reservations.

Members of the popular United Hollywood site issued a first-blush analysis of the pact that offered a middle-of-the-road take on the directors’ pact.

“The DGA deal, as we understand it, is neither reason for celebration nor mourning,” scribes wrote.

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