B’way orgs split over Tony role

Contract rift has groups at odds

NEW YORK — A simmering conflict between the American Theater Wing and the League of American Theaters and Producers, which together have presented the Tony Awards for more than 30 years, has flared into an open rift.

According to Wing president Roy Somlyo, the League notified the Wing on Friday that it does not intend to renew the contract between the two bodies to present the annual awards, which runs out after the ’99 honors.

The move comes after months of negotiations, including attempts by the Wing to effect changes in the contract that Somlyo characterized as “minor” and of no financial consequence.

“The League rejected everything the Wing asked for and further asked for things the Wing found unacceptable,” Somlyo said.

He said the Wing had decided to “roll over” the contract without asking for changes, and was blindsided by the League’s decision to not renew it.

Technical requirement

League prexy Jed Bernstein confirmed the letter, but characterized it as a technical requirement of the old contract and did not mean the League had given up on negotiations.

According to Bernstein, a “quirk” in the contract stipulated that if one of the parties did not intend to renew the contract in its current state, it must inform the other party by July 31. He said he expects the conflicts will be resolved, and reiterated that the current contract still covers next year’s Tonys.

Somlyo, on the other hand, said, “We don’t see it (the notification) as a technicality.”

In the event that the conflicts are not resolved, Somlyo says the Wing will continue to present the Tonys on its own, and he expects the contract with CBS to air the awards, which he recently negotiated, will remain in place. Although the Wing and the League have co-presented the Tonys for many years, the Wing created the awards and owns the name and the copyright.

Divergent aims

Somlyo says the divergent aims of the two organizations are at the heart of the conflict. Somlyo says the League was seeking more control over the Tony name and image “in order to use it to further the interests of the League,” i.e. for marketing purposes.

“The League is determined to commercialize the Tony Awards. The Wing says no: This is an award for excellence, and it must remain that,” Somlyo said.

Bernstein declined to comment on any of the areas of conflict between the two orgs.

Asked if the Wing intended to continue negotiations, Somlyo said, “We have nothing to talk about unless we renew the contract as written.”