17 November, 2007

Studios Back Down and Agree to Talk


" Studios and networks will resume negotiations with striking writers on Nov. 26.

The WGA remains on strike. The companies recently dropped their insistence that the strike had to stop, at least temporarily, as a condition of restarting negotiations.

The Friday night announcement came on the 12th day of the strike in the form of a joint statement from the Writers Guild of America and the Alliance of Motion Picture & Television Producers.

Both sides have agreed to a news blackout.

"Leaders from the AMPTP and the WGA have mutually agreed to resume formal negotiations on November 26," the statement said. "No other details or press statements will be issued."

Shortly after the joint statement was released, WGA West president Patric Verrone sent an email to the WGA membership.

"This announcement is a direct result of your efforts," Verrone said. "For 12 days I have repeated that a powerful strike means a short strike. ...Now it is equally important that we now prove that good news won't slow us down, either. We must remember that returning to the bargaining table is only a start. Our work is not done until we achieve a good contract and that is by no means assured. Accordingly, what we achieve in negotiations will be a direct result of how successfully we can keep up our determination and resolve."

Backchannel efforts have been ongoing throughout the strike to restart the talks, spurred partly by the fact that the negotiations were progressing on Nov. 4, the final day of bargaining. Since then, as job losses and show cancellations gained momentum, agents, high-profile screenwriters and showrunners have exerted pressure for a resumption of talks.

WGA leaders were angry over what they saw as a lack of substantive response by the AMPTP after the guild took its DVD residuals increase off the table. By contrast, the companies contended that they had made significant moves in new-media compensation for streaming video, providing a six-week window for promotion and giving the WGA jurisdiction over made-for-Internet work that was based on existing properties.

Verrone had indicated that for his union to restart negotiations, it needed to receive assurance that the companies would offer more in new media than they did on Nov. 4.

As for the companies, AMPTP president Nick Counter had said he needed to be convinced that the guild wanted to make a deal. He had moved away from last week's stance that the guild would have to stop striking in order to return to the table.

"For true negotiations to take place, there has to be some expectation that a deal can be made, but by their past actions and their current rhetoric that certainly doesn't appear to be the case," Counter said in his most recent statement.

On Wednesday, the WGA trumpeted a pair of surveys showing the public had plenty of sympathy for the writers, with backing of 69% in a Pepperdine poll and 63% in a SurveyUSA poll. Companies received a only a smattering of support, with 4% and 8%.

That same day, IATSE topper Thomas Short had blasted WGA leaders over job losses, noting that more than 50 TV series have been shut down by the strike. "The IATSE alone has over 50,000 members working in motion picture, television and broadcasting and tens of thousands more are losing jobs in related fields," he said. "

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