Oscars on, one way or another

Plans begin for regular and 'alternative' shows

The Oscars will go on, but maybe not in the usual form.

Amid the pervasive uncertainty created by the WGA strike, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences is forging ahead with plans for the Feb. 24 Oscar ceremony. But the Academy is also planning two different shows — the usual kudocast and an alternative event if the scribes are still out.

Oscarcast producer Gil Cates supplied few details as to what form the alternative show would take, simply saying at a meeting at Acad headquarters that they’d have to “play it by ear,” according to one attendee.

But it’s likely that the alternative show would rely on industry heavyweights penning their own speeches and presenting the awards.

Disclosure of the Academy’s contingency plans came Tuesday as the DGA and the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers met for a fourth straight day of formal contract negotiations. With a news blackout in effect, no details emerged, although both sides are expected to continue meeting today.

Many in the town now consider a DGA deal to be a foregone conclusion — even though the terms have not yet been disclosed. The belief’s so widespread that WGA members have already begun to split into rival camps divided over whether the scribes should embrace or spurn the helmers pact as a template for a WGA deal that would end the strike, now in its 11th week. The DGA’s apparent progress has raised hopes that a deal for the helmers could pave the way for the AMPTP to resume talks with the WGA and settle the strike.

The Acad refused to comment on the possibility of an alternative show, which might well rely heavily on pre-taped segments since the presence of WGA pickets would likely deter many honorees from attending. If the WGA fails to forge a pact by Oscar night and pickets the Academy Awards, it would presumably ask members of the Screen Actors Guild to spurn the red carpet and the show, to be telecast on ABC from the Kodak Theater.

Cates, who’s producing the Oscars while heading the DGA’s negotiating committee, disclosed plans for an alternative show during a breakfast meeting with about 40 members of AMPAS’ public relations coordinating committee, composed of publicists who are Acad members and ABC execs and staffers. Cates spoke at the top of the meeting and said the show would go on regardless, adding that sets are being built at the Kodak.

One attendee said, “He was very circumspect about the alternative show.”

Cates left the confab after about 20 minutes, presumably to attend the DGA negotiations at AMPTP headquarters in Encino.

The Academy is still planning to hold its annual Beverly Hilton lunch celebration to hand out certificates to the nominees on Feb. 4. As usual, Acad prexy Sid Ganis will write his own speech. He may also have to do that on Oscar night.

Later Tuesday, the WGA poured cold water on the notion of giving the Oscarcast a pass unless it’s got a deal in hand.

“The WGA West board of directors has already voted to deny a waiver to the Academy if they ask for one,” said WGA West president Patric Verrone at an early afternoon news conference Tuesday at guild headquarters. The event was held to announce that the WGA had granted a waiver for the Feb. 14 NAACP Image Awards.

“The most important thing to us is to get the conglomerates back to the table,” Verrone added, noting that talks collapsed Dec. 7 when the AMPTP insisted that the WGA remove six demands as a condition of continued bargaining.

Pressed as to what would change the board’s decision, Verrone responded, “If we get a contract, that changes things.”

Verrone first announced the board’s stance about the Oscarcast at a Dec. 17 membership meeting. In addition to the NAACP show, the WGA’s also granted waivers to the Jan. 27 SAG Awards and the Feb. 23 Independent Spirit Awards while turning down the Golden Globes.

Verrone said Tuesday that the NAACP was granted a waiver because it’s primarily an organization that focuses on social justice that just happens to put on an awards show.

“The guild examines each request like this individually, and no decision is easy,” he added. “Our ultimate goal is to resolve this strike by achieving a good contract. Because of the historic role the NAACP has played in struggles like ours, we think this decision is appropriate to jointly achieve our goals.”

The waiver means WGA writers will be allowed to script the show and that there will be no picketing by striking writers. NAACP Image Awards chair Clayola Brown said the show would have been called off had the WGA not granted a waiver.

The developments come with the town mired in uncertainty.

Last week’s announcement of the launch of DGA talks provided the biz with its first real burst of optimism since the strike started Nov. 5. Many are viewing the DGA talks as de facto negotiations for the WGA — reasoning that the majors are not going to offer the scribes terms significantly different than what the directors achieve.

That sort of speculation led to two groups of high-profile writers huddling in covert meetings Monday night to discuss what the WGA should do next.

One of the meetings included about two dozen writers who felt their union should continue on its present course and embrace a DGA deal only if it specifically addresses the issues that have kept the writers on picket lines for the past three months — particularly in areas such as new media.

The WGA’s interim deals have provided, for example, that scribes receive a 2.5% cut of distributors’ gross on original new-media works.

A separate group of about 30 showrunners and screenwriters who call themselves moderates met in hopes of pressing WGA leadership to cool down the rhetoric, use the DGA pact as an opportunity to reopen talks with the AMPTP and make a deal as soon as possible.

Asked about current support among members, Verrone responded Tuesday by noting that the WGA West has about 7,500 members. “So there are about 7,500 variations,” he added.

“There’s unity in the sense that they want a good contract and they want to go back to work,” Verrone added. “The overriding message I’ve been getting is that the members are buying into our strategy.”

(Michael Fleming contributed to this report.)

Related story: Oscar’s foreign film race heats up