Hollywood plays the dating game

Industry holds its breath as strike stretches on

The dominant question in Hollywood these days is simple: When is the writers strike going to be over?

The answer is laden with uncertainty, though, amid ongoing saber-rattling and a furious PR battle by both sides to win Hollywood’s hearts and minds. Many, in fact, are still surprised the WGA went on strike as early as it did.

There’s always a chance that both sides could make a deal in the next few days in time for Thanksgiving vacation, but that possibility is viewed as just about impossible, given the continued rancor being fueled by the very public strike campaign.

So here’s a quintet of other scenarios that are being sized up as the strike hits its third week:

1. The writers make a deal by Christmas.

This scenario is low-rated, mostly due to how poorly both sides have handled negotiations so far. Optimists hold out hope that back-channel efforts will be fruitful, particularly given that the two sides were moving toward a deal when talks collapsed Nov. 4. But most of the town is pessimistic, reasoning that the companies want to clean house, create as much pain for the writers as possible and negotiate a deal with the DGA by the end of the year.

“Both sides are really digging in,” says attorney Ivy Kagan Bierman of Loeb & Loeb. “I don’t think they’re of a mindset to reach an agreement any time soon.”

2. The writers make a deal in early 2008, based on the gains achieved by a DGA deal.

This scenario is given a slightly higher rating since the WGA doesn’t have enough clout to get better terms than the DGA. But there’s plenty of animosity between the two guilds — so much so that WGA leaders haven’t included the DGA in their preparations for negotiations or striking. That means the writers are very likely to strongly resist agreeing to the terms the DGA gets.

Additionally, many believe the nets have already written off the current TV season and that film studios have enough scripts to last for another year. “The CEOs just don’t care enough to get this settled any time soon,” says one manager.

3. The writers make a deal next spring.

One emerging scenario sees the WGA staging staggered — or “interim” — strikes that would involve returning to work in exchange for relaunching negotiations; then, if the talks are unproductive, the strike would resume. Settling in May would give networks enough time to cobble together a respectable fall season and studios enough leeway to start filling in slots in 2009.

But even that’s not a sure thing, according to labor specialist Alan Brunswick of Manatt Phelps & Phillips. “The longer this lasts, the harder it is for both sides to settle, because you’ve heightened the expectations of your constituencies,” he says.

4. The writers make a deal in the summer.

With SAG’s contract expiring on June 30, it’s quite plausible that the Alliance of Motion Picture & Television Producers would opt to meet with SAG ahead of the writers. SAG is by far the WGA’s biggest ally; if the AMPTP can make a deal with SAG without a strike, that deal’s probably going to be good enough for the WGA.

5. The writers stay on strike with SAG joining the picket line July 1.

This doomsday scenario would shut down the town instantly, but Jonathan Handel, an attorney at TroyGould and former WGA counsel, doubts things will extend to that point.

“Actors will have already been out of work during pilot season,” he says. “And I don’t think showrunners — some of whom employ 250 people — be willing to hold out that long.”

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