Hollywood Writers Union May Strike in 2001

L O S  A N G E L E S, Sept. 19, 2000 -- As Hollywood growsincreasingly uneasy about a potential screenwriters strike nextsummer, efforts reportedly are under way to bring the WritersGuild of America together with film and television producers asearly as next month to begin contract talks.

The Los Angeles Times said Monday chances are better thaneven that talks will begin in October, at least six months beforethe current contract between the WGA and the Alliance of MotionPicture and Television Producers expires.

The producers alliance and the WGA both declined comment onthe Times report, but some industry executives are clearlyanxious for negotiations to begin.

Television producer Dick Wolf, creator of the NBC dramaLaw & Order and the upcoming series Deadline, has said aprolonged strike could mean “the end of network television as weknow it.”

“There is absolutely no reason for negotiations not to startas quickly as the people can find a room to negotiate in,” hetold Reuters Monday. “A strike will be an unmitigated disasterfor the industry. … A basic fact of show business is no show,no business.”

Existing Pact Expires May 1

The existing Writers Guild pact, which covers work performedfor producers, the major television networks and studios, runsuntil May 1. The Screen Actors Guild contract with the TV andfilm industry expires two months later, and Hollywood executivesare bracing for simultaneous work stoppages by the two guilds inthe summer of 2001.

Both the WGA and SAG want to boost the residuals theirmembers earn for TV shows and films airing on cable televisionand in overseas distribution — two markets that have seen stronggrowth in recent years.

SAG currently is locked in a bitter 20-week-old strike withthe advertising industry over television residuals.

Citing unnamed sources, the Times said Hollywood producershave quietly been lobbying writers to start talks sooner thanlater to ease tensions, but it remained unclear whether the unionwould agree to early negotiations.

WGA spokeswoman Cheryl Rhoden said an initial exchange ofproposals between the guild and producers normally would occuraround the first of the year, about four months before thecontact lapsed. But a spokesman for the producers alliance, NickCounter, said in the past negotiations have started as early as ayear before the existing pact expired.

“Many people have been working behind the scenes to avoid amajor problem next year,” Counter added. “We hope this town willnot take a strike as a fait accompli.”

Networks Stockpiling Scripts

The only reason for not starting contract talks immediatelywould be if militant leaders of the guild were bent on “leadingtheir members to a strike,” said one producer, speaking onbackground.

Counter acknowledged that film studios and producers alreadyare operating under “de facto” strike conditions, shelvingprojects that cannot begin shooting by December or January forfear that production and post-production could not be completedbefore a potential strike.

Television producers and networks are trying to create theirown buffer against a writers strike by stockpiling extra scripts,speeding up series production and developing more reality-basedshows to fill the gap.

Earlier this month, WGA President John Wells, awriter-producer for NBC drama ER, said the union’s position at the bargaining table could be undermined, and the duration of astrike prolonged, by “the false sense of security suchstockpiling might give the companies.”

The last WGA strike, in 1988, lasted five months and delayedthe start of the fall television season.