January 8, 2008 / 2:31 AM / 11 years ago

Striking screenwriters win battles, still face war

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Striking Hollywood writers won two battles on Monday by making a deal to work for Tom Cruise’s film company and wreaking havoc on the Golden Globe Awards, but their labor war against film and TV studios is far from over.

Patric Verrone (C), President of Writers Guild of America, West, joins striking writers as they picket in front of NBC studios in Burbank, California January 2, 2008. REUTERS/Phil McCarten

Some experts believe the writers’ strategy of making deals with independent producers like Cruise’s United Artists will not only fail to divide and conquer Hollywood’s big media companies, but serve to strengthen the industry’s resolve.

Indeed, immediately after United Artists — run by Cruise and Chief Executive Paula Wagner — announced their deal to let striking Writers Guild of America (WGA) members work on films during the strike, UA’s parent, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Inc., issued a statement saying it disagreed with UA’s decision.

Other members of the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers (AMPTP), which represents the major film and television studios in talks with the WGA, commented too.

Philippe Dauman, chief executive of Viacom Inc, said deals like United Artists’ would “have minimal impact.”

“This will only be resolved ultimately by an agreement between the guild and the larger producers collectively,” Dauman said.

The roughly 10,500 WGA members struck against the AMPTP in November over issues that included the amount of money writers would earn when their work appeared on the Internet.

Since then, TV shows have ended production, some films have been delayed and several Hollywood awards shows like the Golden Globes have been derailed.


The WGA has had some success with independent producers like United Artists in reaching “interim agreements,” which generally mean the parties agree to accept whatever terms are eventually decided upon by the AMPTP and WGA.

Talk show host David Letterman’s company, WorldWide Pants, reached an interim deal with the WGA, allowing “The Late Show with David Letterman” to return to the air. But the WGA refused such a deal with the producer of the Golden Globe Awards.

Capping days of speculation, General Electric Co’s NBC late on Monday said it would air the Golden Globes as a news conference instead of the traditional gala ceremony.

While the news conference is a far cry from an awards show, it was not seen as forcing the big media companies back to the bargaining table with the WGA.

“In the grand scheme of things, I don’t think the Globes (development) is going to knock down the Disneys, Foxes and NBCs,” said Shari Anne Brille, director of programming for media buying agency Carat USA.

Many industry insiders believe the AMPTP members have time on their side. “The strike will be settled eventually, but there’s no point in putting programming on air in the short term if it’s going to hurt them in the longer term,” said Mark Greenberg, portfolio manager with AIMInvestments.

Mark Toney, senior vice president of research firm SmithGeiger, agreed. “These deals will be watched closely by networks to make sure nobody else is going off the reservation, but I still think the Foxes and NBCs of the world are in control of the situation,” he said.

ABC is owned by Walt Disney Co, CBS is owned by CBS Corp, Fox is owned by News Corp and NBC is majority-owned by General Electric.

Editing by Gary Hill

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