Companies cite WGA strike as main cause
The other shoe dropped in TV land Monday.Citing fallout from the WGA strike, Warner Bros. TV, CBS Paramount Network TV, Universal Media Studios and 20th Century Fox TV followed the lead of ABC Studios and began dropping writers and producers from their rosters. Since Friday, nearly 75 overalls have been dropped, costing scribes potentially tens of millions of dollars in lost paydays. “First it was Black Friday, and now it’s even blacker Monday,” one agent sighed before taking a call to let a client know the bad news. The WGA reacted strongly to the studios’ moves, saying the AMPTP members were “alienating the very creative force that has made entertainment one of the most successful businesses in the country.” While most major showrunners have been spared the ax — so far — the list of names cut included many well-known names in the biz, from Barbara Hall (“Joan of Arcadia”) to Barry Schindel (“Numbers”). At 20th, about 15 pacts have been shed, while insiders describe the Warner Bros. cuts as fewer than a half-dozen so far. CBS Par has also trimmed roughly 15 deals (though it has a much smaller roster from which to cut), and it’s believed UMS has so far let go some 10 writer-producers. ABC Studios began the bloodletting Friday by slashing more than two dozen deals. And it’s not over yet. Execs and agents are bracing for another round of terminations — particularly if things aren’t settled in the coming month. “All of us are making appropriate plans in the event the strike doesn’t resolve itself,” one exec said. While there were exceptions, studios seemed to be targeting scribes who have deals with less than a year left or those who aren’t currently working on a big show. The thinking: Given the unlikelihood that any real development will take place before June, why not save coin and cut the scribes now? Some predicted the move would backfire, however. “There are some great pieces of talent who’ve been cut, people affiliated with shows that are now going to be (free agents),” one tenpercenter noted. “When it’s over, it’s going to be an absolute free-for-all.” Another agent vowed that he’d make studios “pay dearly” to get in-demand scribes and producers post-strike. One insider insisted that WGA leadership would come under pressure to demand that the studios reinstate the severed deals as a precondition of any settlement. Others dismissed that notion. In response to a request for comment, the WGA made clear its disapproval. “The responsibility for people losing their jobs or for deals being cut rests solely on the shoulders of the conglomerates that illegally walked out of negotiations on Dec. 7,” a Guild rep said. “We are ready and willing to negotiate a fair deal that will put the town back to work, but we can’t do it on our own. The big media companies must come back to the table with the will to make an agreement.” Agents around town began getting calls and letters from studio execs on Monday afternoon. Not everyone got a nice call. One major nonwriting producer didn’t find out his deal had been terminated until he read about it online. Among the departed at 20th: Jonathan Lisco and the team of Gretchen Berg & Aaron Harberts (“Pepper Dennis”). Latter scribes are staffers on a show that will return, “Women’s Murder Club,” but will no longer be developing new projects for the studio. Other scribes let go include Larry Kaplow (“K-Ville”); Paul Redford (“Journeyman”); “Journeyman” creator Kevin Falls; Barbie Adler (“Miss/Guided”); “Drawn Together” exec producers Matt Silverstein and Dave Jesser (who worked on the upcoming laffer “Unhitched”); and another “Unhitched” alum, Kristin Newman. Scribes and producers cut from the CBS Par roster include Mark Johnson (“The Chronicles of Narnia”), John McNamara (“Fastlane”), Liz Astrof (“Welcome to the Captain”), Rene Echevarria (“Medium”), Schindel, Jennifer Levin (“Without a Trace”) and the team of Sivert Glarum & Michael Jamin (“Rules of Engagement”). Eye unit has also scrapped its pact with Hugh Jackman’s company, which recently produced “Viva Laughlin.” The Peacock’s casualty list included David Guarascio & Moses Port (“Aliens in America”), Cheryl Holliday (“King of the Hill”) and Alex Herschlag (“Will & Grace”). New names added to ABC Studios’ roster of cut scribes included Halland Peter Horton (“Dirty Sexy Money”). Studios issued statements Monday blaming the cuts on the strike and thanking their former employees for their contributions. “This is something we’ve all been thinking about for a while, even before the holidays,” said one studio exec. “But we believed there was still hope for a quick resolution over the holiday season. But the strike has dragged on and on. Even if there is a resolution in the next few months, the rest of the season is already screwed up.” Without a traditional development season, execs said they didn’t need a deep stable of overall deals anymore. Studios depend on pilot orders and series pickups to justify the hefty costs of talent rosters. “We did wait as long as possible,” another studio topper said. “We considered force majeure a month ago and started determining what actions to take to terminate deals that didn’t make sense given the uncertainty of the season. But we waited and waited.” So why did all the studios — save Sony, which has been the most cautious about the strike — announce within days of each other? “We’re all looking at business plans and production schedules,” an exec said. “Now, at this time, it seems pretty unlikely that development will have a genuine shot at succeeding this year.” A few agents did note, however, that the decision to finally issue termination letters comes as the DGA and AMPTP appear close to a deal — with the possibility that the WGA could follow suit soon after, ending the strike (and halting any force majeure moves). Should the strike end in the next few weeks — Hollywood is still hoping to get back to work before the Academy Awards — there’s a chance the studios will still produce several pilots and presentations for the nets. To that end, if a terminated scribe’s script is greenlit, one studio exec said they’d likely wind up striking a new deal. Otherwise, terminated means terminated — even if a scribe was working on someone else’s show, it’s understood that their show services will no longer be required. For the most part, however, terminated scribes were either working on development that appeared to have hit a dead end or were working on series that had been canceled or weren’t expected to return. Studio execs, for the most part, say the strike could represent a turning point in how they do business. “This is causing all of us to look at our businesses and look at the efficiency of going from development to series,” one topper said. “We’re all seeing insane efficiencies. We’re building shows that are really more challenging than ever economically. We’ve got to do this better.” But is this really a watershed moment in how the networks and studios do business, or will old habits start creeping in once the strike is over? After all, there will be a lot of well-known scribes without deals when the dust is settled. “I don’t see any of us doing million-dollar deals in a vacuum,” said one exec, who’s prepared to permanently downsize rosters. Agents were more optimistic, predicting a frenzy of big-bucks deals once the strike is settled and the demand for new product intensifies.