Script in Rewrite for WGA

NEW YORK Representatives of Hollywood writers and the major studios enter this week sharing a single resolve: once more, with feeling.

The Writers Guild of America will hold informal talks with studio CEOs this week in an effort to resume formal negotiations with the Alliance of Motion Picture & Television Producers. News of the hopeful development circulated Friday, a day after the announcement of a new contract with the DGA.

The striking WGA, which hasn’t held a negotiating session with the AMPTP since Dec. 7, studied terms of the DGA contract all weekend. The WGA negotiating committee met Saturday and will convene again Tuesday, with the WGA West board set to meet Tuesday morning and the WGA East council also assembling soon.
 
“We’re going to follow the same pattern as the DGA,” a WGA insider said. “First meeting with the studio executives informally and then maybe following that up with actual negotiations. But first we have to study all of the details of the DGA deal.”

At least two top media chiefs — News Corp.’s Peter Chernin and CBS’ Leslie Moonves — engaged in back-channel communications with guild officials during the weekend. A management source said it could take until midweek for the parties to advance those chats to more elaborate, if informal, discussions.

But a top guild source said that select CEOs had agreed to discuss some ground rules for such talks Tuesday.

Meanwhile, the significance of further informal talks directly with top studios executives is twofold.

First, it will allow both sides to sort through peripheral issues so the parties then can take into any resumed formal talks only those issues key to a settlement. Most specifically, the sides will have to sort through three somewhat fringe issues that the AMPTP has found objectionable: reality TV and animation jurisdiction, the right to stage sympathy strikes, and forced arbitration in residual situations involving vertically integrated businesses.

Second, the informal talks with studio chiefs will put guild negotiators in direct contact with those on the management side who can actually approve the most important components of a settlement. The AMPTP board is comprised mostly of senior labor-relations execs, whose authority extends only so far as their CEO bosses allow in many areas.

WGA brass will be huddling during the next few days to discuss further strategy in the talks.

“We [will] be scheduling a membership meeting to inform you and hear your questions and concerns as more information becomes available,” WGAE president Michael Winship told members in a weekend e-mail. “This is a critical juncture in our struggle. As this process unfolds, we ask for your patience. No matter what you think of the DGA’s tentative agreement, what is most important is that the guilds East and West continue to work together in order to achieve our goal — a fair and just agreement for writers.”

WGAW president Patric Verrone indicated similar resolve in his weekend remarks, while DGA officials recapped the happy conclusion for members after the directors’ own short and sweet negotiations.
 
“We entered these negotiations fully aware of the impact the current work stoppage is having on each of you as well as the industry as a whole,” DGA president Michael Apted wrote in an e-mail to members. “The 2007-08 television season has been truncated and the 2008 pilot season is hanging by a thread. Countless feature projects have been put on hold and tens of thousands of workers, both within the industry and in related fields, have lost their jobs.

Industry figures and others have reacted to the DGA settlement primarily with a sense of cautious optimism.

Standard & Poor analyst Tuna Amobi said the DGA pact could be a “catalyst” for the resumption of WGA talks.

“The deal breaks new ground on key areas of jurisdiction and Internet distribution compensation,” S&P said in a summary of Amobi’s note to investors. “Timing is of the essence and will determine whether it can be done in time to meaningfully aid this TV season.”