WGA names negotiating co-chairs

Guild preps for contract talks by tapping John Bowman, Billy Ray

The Writers Guild of America has tapped John Bowman and Billy Ray as co-chairs of its negotiation committee in its first formal move toward prepping for contract talks with the companies.

The WGA, which hasn’t set a date yet for negotiations, made the announcement Wednesday. Its current master contract, hammered out after a bitter 100-day strike in 2007-08, expires May 1.

Bowman chaired the negotiating committee during the lengthy and contentious contract talks with the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers, which began in July 2007 and didn’t end for seven more months. That 17-member panel included such heavyweights as “Law and Order: SVU” showrunner Neal Baer, “Desperate Housewives” showrunner Marc Cherry, “Dreamgirls” writer-director Bill Condon, “Syriana” writer-director Stephen Gaghan and “Hotel Rwanda” writer-director Terry George.

Bowman’s a veteran TV producer-writer with exec producer credits on “Frank TV,” “Murphy Brown” and “Saturday Night Live.” Ray’s a well-known screenwriter with credits including “State of Play,” “Shattered Glass,” “Flightplan” and “Breach,” which Ray also directed.

Bowman and Ray are members of the WGA West board. Bowman’s term runs out in September and he’s opted out of seeking re-election, while Ray was elected in September.

The WGA has tended to opt for starting negotiations closer toto expiration than its counterparts. In 2001 and 2004, the deals were negotiated after the contracts expired; in 2007, talks didn’t start until three months prior to expiration and went nowhere due to profound disagreements on new media and residuals, with the companies launching negotiations with a proposal that the WGA agree to ditch the residuals structure in favor of a profit-based system.

That proposal promoted Bowman to say, “Our members can’t rely on Hollywood accounting. According to studio analysis, ‘The Simpsons’ doesn’t turn a net profit.”

Bowman managed to maintain a sense of humor during the strike. During a massive rally after the strike started, he said, “AMPTP, I love you … when I called your rollbacks Draconian, that was the liquor talking, not me.”

SAG and the American Federation of Television & Radio Artists will start their primetime-feature talks with the AMPTP on Sept. 27. The actor union negotiations are set to run until mid-November when the DGA will have its turn at the table.

The master labor contracts for SAG, AFTRA and the DGA covering film and primetime work all expire on June 30.

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