January 9, 2008 / 9:34 AM / 10 years ago

Striking writers threaten Oscars

LOS ANGELES (Hollywood Reporter) - A day after the writers strike pulled the rug out from under the Golden Globes, Oscar organizers said Tuesday that preparations for the biggest night on Hollywood’s calendar are already behind schedule.

An Oscar statuette in a file photo. A day after the writers strike pulled the rug out from under the Golden Globes, Oscar organizers said Tuesday that preparations for the biggest night on Hollywood's calendar are already behind schedule. REUTERS/Gary Hershorn

The 80th annual Academy Awards are set to take place in Hollywood on February 24, but not a single bon mot has been written yet. The Writers Guild of America (WGA) has been on strike since November 5, and there is no end in sight, a potentially calamitous situation for the Oscars.

“I’m not going to cite odds, but our hope is we can work something out or that the strike is resolved in time,” said Bruce Davis, executive director of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.

“The major change from last year,” he said, “is that in a normal year, we’d have assembled a staff of writers, and they would have been working on the show for more than a month.”

Following that schedule, writing for this year’s show would kick into high gear after the Oscar nominations are announced January 22.

In a typical year, the Academy assembles one group of writers — often including such frequent contributors as Dave Boone, Carol Leifer and Bruce Vilanch — while the host brings in a second set of writers. Last year’s show required at least 14 writers, including host Ellen DeGeneres.

But this year, the Academy said it hasn’t yet hired any writers, and designated host Jon Stewart hasn’t brought together his writers either.

Stewart, who initially refused to cross picket lines, returned to the air this week as star of “The Daily Show With Jon Stewart” on Comedy Central. He is expected to be on hand at the Oscars, but Academy officials said that if he should withdraw for any reason, they have no Plan B in place.

When it does approach the WGA for a waiver to use union scribes, the Academy is likely to argue that it owns the Academy Awards, which it licenses to ABC, and so should be able to negotiate an agreement on its own like David Letterman’s independent production company did for CBS’ two late-night shows. It also could argue that of the Academy’s 15 branches, only one is composed of executives and that the rest of the Academy membership is made up of creative artists such as actors, directors and writers, many of whom share the WGA’s goals.

Personal relations also could come into play: Gil Cates, one of the Directors Guild of America’s lead negotiators, is producing the Oscar show. And in the interest of solidarity, he could argue that the WGA should grant the Academy a waiver just as it did for the Screen Actors Guild’s upcoming awards.

If denied writers, the show would likely go on. The 1988 show took place during the last writers strike, and the stars — including best actor and actress winners Michael Douglas and Cher — were all in attendance.

What worries Oscar planners this year is the threat of WGA pickets, which upended the Globes.

If the strike hasn’t ended by late February, and the Academy isn’t granted a waiver, then the Academy could be forced to decide whether to postpone the show if the WGA is planning to picket.

Postponements have happened only three times in Academy history: in 1938, because of floods; in 1968, because of the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr.; and in 1981, in the wake of the assassination attempt on President Reagan.

The last time the Academy faced a major quandary was 2003, when U.S.-led forces invaded Iraq just four days before the Oscars were to take place. With the clock counting down, the Academy decided to go on with the show but eliminated much of the glitz surrounding the traditional red-carpet arrivals to reflect a more somber mood.

Reuters/Hollywood Reporter

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