LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - The Academy Awards presentation is still two months away but the world’s top film awards ceremony found itself embroiled on Tuesday in the worst Hollywood labor clash in two decades.
The screenwriters union, on strike since November 5 against major movie and TV studios, said it would deny waivers that would allow producers of the Academy Awards, as well as the Golden Globe Awards, to hire union writers for their shows.
Organizers of both awards said their shows would go on with or without the blessing of the Writers Guild of America.
Leslie Unger, spokeswoman for the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, said it was too soon to say how the 80th annual Academy Awards on February 24 would be affected.
She said producers of the Oscars gala, which usually ranks as one of the year’s highest-rated U.S. television broadcasts, might still seek an interim agreement with the WGA that would free the ceremony of strike sanctions.
“There are any number of possible options we might explore,” Unger said.
For now the denial of an Oscar waiver means that unless the strike is settled in time, the internationally televised ceremony will be treated by the union as a “struck company,” and someone other than WGA members would have to write any material delivered on the show by performers and presenters.
The same is true for the Golden Globes telecast, which is set for January 13, although producers of that show, sponsored by the Hollywood Foreign Press Association, said they also would seek talks with the WGA for an interim deal on the ceremony.
The WGA also is refusing to grant its usual permission to Oscar producers to use clips from movies and past shows without paying union members residual fees for them.
A WGA spokeswoman said the guild has not decided whether to picket the shows, which could be a key factor in determining how many actors and other academy members are willing to attend the shows or stay home in solidarity with striking writers.
Also unclear was whether WGA writers, including those nominated for various screenplay awards, might attend the awards shows, or whether Oscar host Jon Stewart, a WGA member, would be permitted to write his own material.
A spokesman for the comedian, who stars on the Comedy Central cable network show “The Daily Show with Jon Stewart,” was not immediately available for comment.
In a statement explaining its decision to deny waivers for two of Hollywood’s biggest awards, WGA West President Patric Verrone said the stakes in the union’s dispute with the major studios were too high to exempt the shows.
“Writers are engaged in a crucial struggle to achieve a collective bargaining agreement that will protect their compensation and intellectual property rights now and in the future,” he said in a statement.
The main sticking point in contract talks that broke off again on December 7, with no further negotiations scheduled, is payment to writers for work distributed over the Internet.
The industry’s bargaining arm, the Alliance of Motion Picture of Motion Picture and Television Producers, issued a statement condemning the union’s latest move: “In the category of worst supporting union, the nominee is the WGA.”
The WGA’s action came hours after two of U.S. TV’s biggest late-night stars, Jay Leno and Conan O’Brien, said they would resume taping their NBC shows on January 2, even if it means crossing picket lines, after two months off the air in support of the strike.
Editing by Bob Tourtellotte and Bill Trott