Fate of Academy Awards in question

After the virtual shutdown of the Golden Globes, there are lots of questions about the fate of the Academy Awards but few answers.

The Oscar issue is, however, the tip of the iceberg. The subtext is whether the strike will be settled before the Feb. 24 kudocast.

There have been signs of tentative optimism in recent days. It’s becoming clearer that the majors’ negotiations with the Directors Guild of America are also de facto negotiations for the striking Writers Guild. That certainly seems to be the strategy pursued by the majors amid total silence for more than a month between the Alliance of Motion Picture & Television Producers and the WGA.

The DGA, whose contract is up June 30, has been treading cautiously during the past few days in its informal conversations with the AMPTP as it seeks to lay much, if not all, of the foundation for a doable deal before the sides sit down at AMPTP’s headquarters in Encino for the formal start of bargaining.

Given the deep freeze in AMPTP-WGA relations, the DGA is going into the talks with a good deal of leverage, but it’s also under extraordinary pressure as it must create the template of a deal that would be palatable to at least the moderate factions of the WGA — and SAG.

Industry insiders say DGA leaders are sensitive to the perception in some quarters that the guild is cozy with the studios and has in the past made compromises in areas where the other guilds would’ve liked to take a harder line. This time around, if there is to be peace in Hollywood’s valley any time soon (such as before Feb. 24), the DGA has to devise a solution to the central dilemma of compensation for new-media businesses that the studios maintain are still developing and not yet major sources of profits.

Despite reports that the DGA’s informal conversations with studio reps had not yielded much progress in the past few days, insiders said there were some optimistic signs Tuesday that the two sides were making some headway and moving closer to setting a date for the start of formal bargaining.

Meanwhile, execs at the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences said firmly that they will hold the Oscars on Feb. 24. “We’re moving ahead with our plans,” Acad president Sid Ganis said Tuesday. “That’s our job, to prepare a show — and that’s what we’re doing.”

At ABC, the Oscar mantra is “Business as usual.” Preparations are continuing for a typical edition of the show, but several contingency plans are on the table. The Academy hasn’t yet approached the WGA for a waiver; a denial could put those contingency plans into motion.

But insiders believe that Oscar is less strike vulnerable than the Golden Globes because — well, frankly, because they’re the Oscars.

Execs at the network and the Academy agree it’s unlikely the Oscars would be postponed.

In December, the Acad requested, as usual, a waiver from the guild for the free use of film clips during the ceremony, which the writers denied.

One WGA rep said at the time that if the org asks for a writing waiver, the request will be denied.

But things can change quickly, and the Oscarcast is still more than six weeks away. It’s hoped that the strike will end by that time.

Asked about the fate of the Oscars, one specialty distrib said Tuesday: “It’s like contemplating my own mortality. I know it’s something I have to face, but not today.”

Even if the labor strife persists, many in Hollywood this week have mulled the diminishment of Sunday’s Globes to a one-hour press conference and said the writers may be well served by allowing speeches from winning scribes (and their supporters) addressing a global audience at the Oscars.

Meanwhile, as NBC scrambled to fill out its Sunday night programming sked with Globes-themed specials, SAG issued a statement urging its members not to give interviews for NBC News’ “Dateline” spec. The Peacock had in the can an hourlong “Dateline” seg on the Globe nominees that it originally intended to run Saturday night as a precursor to Sunday’s kudocast. Now the network is looking to pad it out to two hours that can air leading into the 9 p.m. live press conference announcing the Globe winners.

“The WGA has informed us that they consider (the ‘Dateline’ special) struck work,” a SAG spokeswoman said. “We hope that our members will not participate.”

It was not immediately clear if SAG’s directive applied to other Globe-themed specials in the works for E! and TV Guide Network.

(Michael Schneider contributed to this report.)

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