Force majeure ax falls at ABC Studios

Nearly two dozen writer deals terminated

The force majeure ax has swung at ABC Studios, which on Friday notified nearly two dozen writers and nonwriting producers it is terminating their overall deals as a result of the strike.

While all of the major studios had previously suspended deals for their scribes, the ABC Studios action reps the biggest move yet by a major to cut ties to talent. Studio wasn’t talking specifics, but based on industry estimates, it appears ABC Studios has cut nearly a quarter of its roster.

Almost all of the deals axed involved producers or writers who weren’t currently working on major series. There were no reports of ABC Studios cutting loose big-bucks deals with the likes of Marc Cherry or Shonda Rhimes.

“The ongoing strike has had a significant detrimental impact on development and production. so we are forced to make the difficult decision to release a number of talented, respected individuals from their development deals,” ABC Studios said in a statement late Friday.

Industry insiders said Warner Bros. TV was also preparing to make some cuts to its roster — though nothing as dramatic as ABC Studios’ action.

“It’s a strike. Everybody’s going to be doing this,” said one high-level agent, who’s bracing for a hefty round of terminations in the coming days.

Broad scope of the cuts suggests the Disney-owned studio isn’t simply reacting to strike economics. It appears ABC Studios is making a concerted effort to downsize its roster, perhaps anticipating the likelihood it will be producing fewer pilots in coming years.

Indeed, in recent weeks, network execs have been openly discussing their intention to use the strike as an impetus to finally end the decades-old pilot development season.

Some webheads said they plan to simply do away with pilots — at least this development season — and go straight to series on projects they believe in. Whether networks will be able to take such decisive action in a nonstrike season remains to be seen.

Among the ABC Studios talent cut loose: Gabe Sachs & Jeff Judah (“What About Brian”), Nina Wass & Gene Stein (“Less Than Perfect”), Bill Callahan (“Scrubs”), Larry Charles (“Curb Your Enthusiasm”), Sean Bailey (“Project Greenlight”) and the team of Joshua Sternin & Jeffrey Ventimilia (“That ’70s Show,” “Surviving Christmas”). “Private Practice” thesp Taye Diggs, who had a production deal at ABC Studios with partner-manager Abe Hoch, has also had that pact terminated.

ABC Studios has also ended its formal relationship with helmer-writer Rod Lurie, though Lurie had already met all of his contractual obligations to the studio and thus isn’t expected to suffer any financial loss because of the move.

Over the weekend, a spokeswoman for ABC Studios declined to confirm or deny which deals had been ended.

(Michael Schneider contributed to this report.)