‘Sit Down’ writers striking at Sony

Staff pushing for WGA, not IATSE, jurisdiction

A labor dispute has broken out behind the scenes on Fox’s upcoming animated laffer “Sit Down, Shut Up.”

Writers on the show have stopped working after learning that Sony Pictures TV had placed the show under IATSE jurisdiction rather than that of the Writers Guild of America.

Writers and producers had assumed — and said they had been told by Sony execs — that the show would be covered by the WGA. That’s because all of Fox’s animated shows are under WGA jurisdiction under terms of a hard-fought battle won by the net’s primetime animated scribes several years ago.

Now, it appears likely that some execs may have given assurances to scribes without fully understanding they couldn’t deliver. After weeks of promising that a WGA deal was in the works, the execs finally broke the news to scribes that it wasn’t happening.

In a corporate statement, Sony didn’t address what the writers might have been told, instead focusing on what it claims the scribes should have known: That “Sit Down, Shut Up” would be an IATSE-repped project given that union’s deal with Sony Pictures TV’s animation division, Adelaide Prods.

The writers and “Sit Down, Shut Up” may be caught up in the ongoing jurisdiction tussle waged in recent years between IATSE and WGA.

“Sony’s in an impossible place,” said one insider. “They have a valid IA deal, while the writers (want to sign with the WGA).”

Having been told that the WGA issue would be addressed, “Sit Down, Shut Up” exec producers Mitch Hurwitz, Bill Oakley and Josh Weinstein were said to be surprised to learn it would be an IATSE, rather than WGA show, as were exec producer Mitch Hurwitz and the rest of the show’s scribes.

It’s not a new issue for Oakley and Weinstein, who fought — and eventually secured — WGA coverage for their short-lived WB animated series “Mission Hill” (produced by Warner Bros. TV) earlier this decade.

As guild issues were being hammered out, the show’s writers had been working in good faith without a contract — and without pay — over the past several weeks. Once it became apparent last week that “Sit Down, Shut Up” wouldn’t be a WGA series after all, the scribes stopped work.

“We started working as a favor to our friends at Sony,” one disappointed writer said.

It’s unclear what kind of compromise may be reached. IATSE fought attempts in 2003 to give the WGA jurisdiction on NBC’s “Father of the Pride,” compromising by allowing some WGA-style contract features.

In this case, Sony said its Adelaide Prods. “has been a signatory to the IATSE bargaining agreement for at least 10 years and has been producing animated programming under that agreement. All of the deals made with the writers were specifically negotiated with their agents specifying that this program would be covered by the IATSE bargaining agreement.”

Meanwhile, insiders confirmed a Deadline Hollywood Daily report that Sony over the weekend sent out letters asserting breach of contract to the show’s scribes.

On the Animation Guild (IATSE 839) blog, business rep Steve Hulett characterized the dispute as one between the writers and Sony, not IATSE.

“Please don’t drag us into a fight between Sony and the WGA,” he wrote. “This dispute is between corporate execs in Culver City who apparently misinformed some new hires on an animated television show. SAG ain’t involved.”

Hulett noted that as far as he knows, WGA has no contracts in place for animation writers at Sony. In the case of late-1990s UPN skein “Dilbert,” Sony created a non-Animation Guild company for scribes, which the WGA organized, he added.

The WGA, meanwhile, said it is in conversations with Sony, and that it holds out “hope this will be settled soon.”

“The writers of ‘Sit Down, Shut Up’ are Writers Guild members,” the org said, “and they want the show to be covered by a WGA contract.”

Should IATSE remain in place and the show’s scribes opt not to return, the future of the series — which is co-produced by 20th Century Fox TV — could be in jeopardy.

“Hopefully, they work it all out,” said thesp Jason Bateman, who lends his voice to the show’s main character. “It would be a shame to spend four months (putting together the show) and then have all that go out the window.”

Based on a short-lived live-action Australian comedy, “Sit Down, Shut Up” revolves around a high school where the faculty believes the students must always come second. Hurwitz, Oakley and Weinstein exec produce with Eric and Kim Tannenbaum.

Besides Bateman, the show’s vocal talent includes Will Arnett, Maria Bamford, Will Forte, Tom Kenny, Nick Kroll, Cheri Oteri, Kenan Thompson and Henry Winkler.

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