Showrunners showing enthusiasm

DGA outline gives hope

Now, the spotlight is on TV’s showrunners.

The writer-producers behind primetime’s scripted fare were looking closely Thursday at the DGA’s new deal with congloms — and many liked what they saw. Some are even quietly hoping that part of the 2007-08 season can be saved and that even some of pilot season might be salvaged.

It’s a long way from the DGA deal to the Writers Guild/AMPTP negotiating table, but there’s a strong sense among several showrunners that scribe leaders such as WGA West prexy Patric Verrone and chief negotiator David Young will feel the pressure to use the Directors Guild of America template as a means of getting talks restarted. Insisting on conversations about issues such as reality or animation would be, as one showrunner put it, “a disaster.”

Another scribe said if the early consensus holds that the DGA made a decent deal, WGA leadership may have to go ahead and give up side issues such as reality and focus on modifying the DGA deal.

“If they get sidetracked onto other issues, both Patric and David know they would be chased out of town with pitchforks, not just by the WGA but by the town as a whole,” said one top scribe-producer who’s been a regular presence on the picket lines.

To help sway showrunners, it’s believed several CEOs and other top execs have been busy working the phones in the past 24 hours. They’ve been briefing their talent on the details of the deal and trying to persuade them that real progress had been made and the studios want to get the strike behind them.

Likewise, one network exec said producers have been ringing up their contacts at the networks to talk about what transpired Thursday.

If enough showrunners find the DGA deal workable, pressure is expected to build for a conclusion to the nearly 3-month-old WGA strike — and a deal between scribes and studios could be in sight.

“Something had to happen, and I hope that this is it,” said one showrunner from a long-running hit. “When I looked it over, I thought it was an incredibly positive moment. Somebody needed to break this open, and I hope this DGA deal allows everyone to come back to the table and start negotiating.”

The writer-producers behind primetime’s scripted fare have demonstrated their support for the guild throughout the strike — most visibly in their massive rally outside Warner Bros. back in November.

But the showrunners have also been eager to bring people back to work and get their shows back on the air.

That may be why several showrunners contacted by Daily Variety said they hoped to find things they like about the DGA deal and that popular opinion would ultimately be on the DGA’s side.

“Everyone has to take a breath, examine the deal with an open mind and then make a judgment,” one scribe said. “But if it seems like there’s a pretty good deal here, and that the upside of holding out for other things is fairly intangible, then I think the leadership is going to have a hard time rallying the membership.”

That’s not to say scribes are convinced there may not be some hard bargaining to come.

One showrunner predicted that top-level screenwriters “will love this deal” but that TV scribes still have some tough questions to ask about the formulas being used for determining residual payments for electronic sell-through.

It’s expected top showrunners will gather informally via their Showrunners United org over the next couple of days to discuss the DGA deal. One expressed hope that the WGA would organize Q&A sessions for members with questions about specifics in the DGA deal.

The biggest surprise Thursday seemed to be that the Directors Guild got the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers to yield on distributors’ gross.

“I never in a billion years thought that was going to happen,” one scribe said. (See story, page 1.)

Showrunners were also impressed that the DGA persuaded the AMPTP to yield on Internet jurisdiction.

“This looks pretty good, actually,” said one scribe-showrunner who describes himself as a moderate. “It looks like some pretty important issues got addressed.”

One showrunner admitted that, with new media still too uncertain, it’s probably impossible to determine right now whether the 3% residual rate on streaming is acceptable or not.

“I can’t look at that and go, ‘I’m being fucked,’ or ‘That’s good,’ ” he said. “I don’t know what the landscape is going to be a year from now or five years from now. To me, the issue I always thought was the unknown. Maybe they could screw us royally, but we won’t know that until it happens.”

The exec producer said he thought the deal felt “reasonable to me, but I don’t know. I’ll wait and hear why this isn’t too terrible … (but) it will be interesting to hear the firebrands as well.”

Others were optimistic that at the very least, talks may now resume on a WGA deal.

“I will say that now that the DGA deal is done, I hope the AMPTP will return to the bargaining table with us,” said “Bones” consulting producer Josh Berman.

Many scribes expressed hope that everyone involved would find a way to declare victory — and get back to work.

“Everyone could win if the writers got a deal,” one scribe said. “The directors can take credit for doing the deal quickly. The studios can say they were able to deal with ‘adults.’ And the writers can say it was their strike that gave the DGA leverage.”

As another showrunner put it, “It would be a nice Hollywood ending.”

There was also talk on both sides of reconciliation, assuming a fair deal can be worked out.

“The past is the past,” one showrunner said. “Whatever bad blood got us to where we are — we need to put it behind us.”

A top exec at an AMPTP company echoed that feeling, saying he’s not interesting in declaring victory — just in getting things back to normal.

Meanwhile, should a deal be hammered out within the next month, network and studio insiders have said that portions of this TV season — as well as pilot season — could still be salvaged.

It would be on a case-by-case basis: Some series could power back up relatively quickly and churn out at least a few more episodes this year, if not an entire back nine order.

Earlier this week, before the DGA news, “Desperate Housewives” creator Marc Cherry told KABC-TV that a strike settlement in the next two weeks would let him produce most of the episodes that had been planned for this season.

Some showrunners and execs were looking at Valentine’s Day as a key date, believing that if a deal is done by then, they could still finish up the season — particularly if networks are willing to air original episodes in June and July.

It seems likely nets will focus on getting as many episodes of megahits on the air as possible. Midlevel shows might be dropped in favor of the tons of reality fare that’s waiting in the wings.

On the development front, nets could also still greenlight and cast a limited number of pilots for next year (some have already been picked up and shot), perhaps from scripts that had been submitted (or were close to being submitted) pre-strike.

One insider jokingly predicted an avalanche of pilot scripts would magically appear within days of the strike ending, though that might be optimistic.

Other nets insist that at this point, they have no real desire to revert to a traditional pilot season. Some nets will simply pick their best three or four projects and go directly to series for next fall.

A deal would also mean the May upfronts would probably still go on as planned as well, though some nets still believe the event needs to be downsized.