Writers end strike; now they must write
LOS ANGELES – Hollywood writers’ brief moment to savor the end of their 100-day strike gave way Wednesday to the cold reality of a blank page and networks and studios eager for new TV episodes.
“What we’re all finding is there’s a certain amount of, `OK, what are we going to do now?’ said Shane Brennan, writer and executive producer for the CBS drama “NCIS.”
“You go back to your desk, open your computer, look at the last thing you planned, the last thing you wrote,” Brennan said, “and figure out how to go from there.”
Cheryl Heuton, executive producer for CBS’ “Numb3rs,” has been making a flurry of calls to muster crew members, writers and others connected with the drama.
“We’re just gathering everybody. The offices are pretty dark and lonely and will be for a couple more days,” said Heuton.
Members of the Writers Guild of America members voted overwhelmingly Tuesday to lift the union’s strike order, allowing the industry to jump-start stalled production of numerous TV sitcoms and dramas.
“It will be all hands on deck for the writing staff,” said Chris Mundy, co-executive producer of the CBS drama “Criminal Minds.” Actual production won’t begin, however, until scripts have been completed, which could take days or even weeks.
For the Feb. 24 Academy Awards, the vote by East and West Coast guild members ended the threat of a boycott by writers and actors that would have robbed the ceremony of its celebrity luster.
Sid Ganis, president of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, which stages the Oscars, responded effusively.
“I am ecstatic that the 80th Academy Awards presentation can now proceed full steam ahead,” he said, and without “hesitation or discomfort” for the nominees.
The writers’ decided overwhelmingly in favor of ending the strike: 3,492 said yes, with only 283 voting to stay off the job. The number of guild members involved in the strike was 10,500, with countless other industry workers forced into unemployment because of the walkout.
Writers did not vote on the tentative contract agreement that already has won approval from the union’s board of directors. The contract ratification vote will be conducted by mail and at meetings and will conclude Feb. 25.
Approval is expected, given Tuesday’s lopsided decision and the enthusiasm for the proposed contract expressed at guild meetings held last weekend in New York and Los Angeles.
“At the end of the day, everybody won. It was a fair deal and one that the companies can live with, and it recognizes the large contribution that writers have made to the industry,” Leslie Moonves, chief executive officer of CBS Corp., told The Associated Press on Tuesday.
Moonves was among the media executives who helped broker a deal after negotiations between the guild and the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers, which represents studios, collapsed in December.
Under the tentative agreement, writers would get a maximum flat fee of about $1,200 for programs streamed on the Internet in the deal’s first two years and then get 2 percent of a distributor’s gross in year three ó a key union demand.
Other provisions include increased residual payments for movies and TV programs downloaded from the Internet.
“These advances now give us a foothold in the digital age,” said Patric Verrone, president of the West Coast guild. “Rather than being shut out of the future of content creation and delivery, writers will lead the way as television migrates to the Internet.”
Michael R. Perry, a writer for “Persons Unknown” and other TV dramas, said the deal made him hopeful the guild and studios could be “partners in a growing pie” of Internet revenue.
“I want them to be fabulously, filthy rich. I just want my piece,” Perry said.
The strike that began Nov. 5 dealt a financial blow to a wide range of businesses dependent on work from studios.
It took a $3.2 billion toll in direct and indirect costs on the economy of Los Angeles County, the home of most of the nation’s TV and film production, according to a new estimate from Jack Kyser, chief economist for the Los Angeles Economic Development Corp.
The last writers strike, a 153-day walkout in 1988, resulted in an estimated $500 million in lost wages.
Hollywood’s labor pains may not be over: The contract between studios and the Screen Actors Guild is set to expire in June, said Jonathan Handel, an entertainment attorney with the Los Angeles firm of TroyGould and a former associate counsel for the writers guild.
“The signs are mixed whether this is going to be another difficult negotiation,” Handel said. “The actors face all of the new-media issues that the writers and directors faced.”
Writers end strike; now they must write