Patric Verrone talks strike, 'Osbournes'

Writers Guild of America West president Patric Verrone has issued an upbeat assessment of the guild’s organizing efforts, citing gains in cable and new media.

“Defending and expanding our jurisdiction do not take place in a vacuum,” Verrone said in a message sent to 8,000 WGA West members Friday. “The gains won as a result of our 100-day strike have helped change the environment in which we undertake our organizing efforts, and as this report reflects, we are making steady progress getting companies to agree to WGA coverage of their projects.”

In the deal signed at the end of the strike, the companies spelled out and improved how writers are paid for work that’s streamed over the Internet while the WGA backed off from its demands for guaranteed jurisdiction over reality TV and animation writers. Although the WGA has invested heavily in efforts to organize story editors and other staffers on reality shows, Verrone’s report indicated that over the past two years, the guild’s biggest jurisdictional gains have come in cable.

The WGA has inked contracts on two dozen cable skeins, including 15 on Comedy Central, such as “The Sarah Silverman Program,” “The Mind of Mencia,” “The Showbiz Show With David Spade” and “Reno 911!” Other skeins include “Tyler Perry’s House of Payne” and “Tyler Perry’s Meet the Browns” on TBS, “The Singing Bee” on CMT and “Animal Armageddon” on Animal Planet.

WGA spokesman Neal Sacharow said the gains in cable represent more than 100 new job slots.

Verrone noted that the WGA had told its members not to work on Fox’s comedy-variety vehicle “The Osbournes: Loud and Dangerous” last year after it was unable to reach a deal with producer FremantleMedia. The first segment aired on April 1 but no other segments have been scheduled.

“Guild members heeded the call and refused to write for this non-guild show, which would have been the first non-WGA comedy-variety show in primetime broadcast TV,” Verrone said.

Verrone disclosed that the WGA has made deals with 26 companies in new media, 44 interactive agreements and deals on 15 low-budget features and three foreign-produced projects. He also noted that the WGA has continued to pressure FremantleMedia over its refusal to agree to guild coverage.

“The organizing struggle is far from over, and there is much important work left to be done,” Verrone concluded. Verrone, who’s been president since 2005, and his allies have increased the amount of funding for organizing efforts as part of fulfilling campaign promises.

In March, the WGA West cut more than a dozen of its 185 employees as a result of an annual operating deficit of more than $2 million as the guild cited the negative effects of the global economic crisis (Daily Variety, March 26).

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