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Lionsgate signs as WGA talks go on

Indie producer, Marvel make interim deals

With Hollywood holding its collective breath, WGA leaders and moguls provided another slice of optimism as they continued to meet informally for a third straight day to hammer out a conclusion to the three-month writers strike.

Talks remained under a news blackout Thursday with another session planned for today — giving rise to hopes that the de facto negotiations are productive enough developing sufficient momentum to lead to the resumption of formal negotiations.

The WGA trumpted a pair of interim deals Thursday with Lionsgate, the largest indie producer, and superhero specialist Marvel Entertainment. The new pacts give the WGA a dozen such deals as part of its “divide and conquer” strategy to put pressure on the majors to accept the guild’s terms.

“Lionsgate is considered a leader in the industry and its signing an interim agreement again confirms that it is possible for writers to be compensated fairly and respectfully for their work and for companies to operate profitably,” said WGA West prexy Patric M. Verrone and WGA East prexy Michael Winship.

Lionsgate’s pact with the WGA is the first of the guild’s interim deals to make a dent on the scripted primetime series side, because Lionsgate at present is the only distrib beyond the majors that is deficit-financing scripted series.

And the timing of the deal is particularly good for Lionsgate’s TV biz; the indie’s Showtime comedy “Weeds” would normally be gearing up for pre-production right about now, and its understood that the company had hoped to begin prepping the second season of its much-praised AMC drama “Mad Men” as early as last November.

Moreover, Lionsgate Television has a number of high-profile development projects in the works with broadcast and cable nets. If the strike endures, Lionsgate could wind up as the only major player that is able to proceed on script revisions and pilot production.

As for Marvel, Chairman David Maisel said the deal will allow it to resuming work with writers on future projects including “Captain America,” “Thor,” “Ant-Man” and “The Avengers.”

The AMPTP reiterated its statement about such deals:  “These one-off agreements are meaningless because the companies signing them know they will not have to abide by their terms for very long, since they’ll be superseded by whatever final industry-wide accords are reached. If companies truly had to live by the terms of these one-off agreements, we are confident none would ever be signed.”

The majors have continued to pressure writers by tightening its purse strings. ABC joined most of the other broadcast nets Thursday in opting to cut back some of its scripted development for the 2008-09 season.

It’s believed the net has cancelled commitments to between two and three dozen projects, repping perhaps a quarter of its previously planned development. Alphabet telegraphed its intention to reduce its script roster last week, but until Thursday, it hadn’t made any moves in that direction; in the meantime, CBS, Fox and the CW all informed dozens of scribes that their projects were no longer wanted.

ABC released a statement saying that the “ongoing strike has caused us to reevaluate our development needs and we’ve made the difficult decision to reduce the number of scripts under consideration.”

NBC Wednesday said it wouldn’t trim back any of its script orders for next season.

The key issue at the DGA negotiations — and for WGA members on picket lines — centered on spelling out how creatives will be compensated for work in new media. The DGA’s deal provided for specificity in electronic sell-through, streaming and jurisdiction over work created for the Internet.

Informed sources have said the DGA’s projections have shown that the digital businesses covered under its agreement will be generating revenues of $3.5 billion annually by 2014.

Meanwhile, the WGA continued picketing at most major lots in Los Angeles despite heavy rains on Thursday.

“It’s not the most pleasant thing but I’m from Seattle so this kind of weather is nostalgic for me,” noted strike captain Steve Chivers at the Paramount Windsor gate as rain came sluicing down.

Chivers, who was overseeing about 25 pickets at mid-morning, pointed out that WGA pickets in New York routinely faced far more challenging weather.

“I remind myself that this kind of weather is nothing compared to what they see every day in New York,” he added.

Chivers said the mood on the picket line has stayed upbeat, particularly with the WGA leadership announcing that it’s meeting with moguls to lay the groundwork for official negotiations to resume.

“I think people are feeling like we finally may be able to make a deal, although we still have not seen the actual numbers — just the DGA announcement,” he added.

He also noted that WGA negotiating committee members and board members have been visiting picket lines in recent days to seek feedback and explain the nuances of what the DGA announced in its deal last week.

“We’re just ordinary people,” Chivers said. “Despite what (AMPTP media consultants) Chris Lehane and Mark Fabiani may say, we are not crazy and we don’t have horns and tails.”

In New York, the WGA called off a large picket scheduled for today at Time Warner Center. Media rep Sherry Goldman said the decision stemmed from the press of other events — including an Oscar event, a Congressional visit and daily pickets at the morning and latenight talkshows Monday through Thursday.

“It was becoming logistically too difficult to do this major event, too, and then be able to plan for next week so we decided to postpone,” she said.

(Josef Adalian, Michael Fleming and Cynthia Littleton contributed to this report)

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