06 February, 2008

"WGA schedules Saturday meeting"


"WGA leaders have scheduled a bi-coastal powwow on Saturday, with membership meetings in New York and L.A. designed to sell the new contract agreement to the WGA's rank-and-file and end the 3-month-old strike.

At both gatherings, WGA leaders will go over the details of the proposed contract, and the reaction and questions from the members will likely signal whether the deal will pass muster in a ratification vote by the WGA's 10,500 members.

Negotiating committee chief John Bowman has already told members that the official approval process through the committee and the WGA boards would not take place until after the membership meetings in L.A. and New York. If members back the deal at the meetings, the boards could quickly start the ratification process -- and possibly issue a back-to-work order that could take effect as early as Monday.

Such a swift resolution would allow studios and networks to jumpstart the moribund pilot development process and the production of new episodes of some TV shows. It would also resolve the uncertainty that has swirled around the Feb. 24 Academy Awards ceremony since the strike began.

WGA board members told picketers Tuesday that the board could approve a "back to work" resolution prior to ratification if the consensus from the membership showed that the clear majority will accept the final deal. The strike won't be officially over, however, until after members have ratified the deal -- a process expected to take two weeks.

But even with the end of the strike in sight, it's not a slam dunk. The news blackout remained in place Tuesday as lawyers continued to draft contract language; pickets continued at major lots in Los Angeles and shows in New York; and some members complained that they won't support a deal that mimics the DGA's, particularly in ad-supported streaming.

Some WGA members who have been strong strike supporters are irked over reports that the pact will include a 17- to 24-day free usage window for promotional purposes -- even though the deal provides that in its final year, writers will receive 2% of distributor's gross after the promo window ends.

After three months out on strike, some are opining in the blogosphere and elsewhere that such terms don't represent enough of a gain given the expected increase in conglom revenues in digital media. (Meanwhile, the majors say this windfall is overblown, at least for the three-year term of the guild contracts).

But the WGA leadership remains under pressure to end the strike, particularly from a group of showrunners and screenwriters who have worked via backchannels to convey their belief that prolonging the work stoppage would be counterproductive.

That group amped up lobbying efforts last week by threatening to return to work this week if there wasn't movement toward a deal, particularly with the DGA's tentative pact providing a template to craft an agreement. Patience among the moderates began running out Jan. 29 due to the unveiling of two letters critical of the DGA deal -- one from WGA West board member Phil Alden Robinson and the other from SAG president Alan Rosenberg and exec director Doug Allen.

Bowman, WGA West president Patric Verrone and exec director David Young -- who crafted the pact over the past two weeks with News Corp. prexy-chief operating officer Peter Chernin and Disney CEO Robert Iger -- are expected to lay out details at the Saturday night meet in L.A.

WGA East prexy Michael Winship will preside over the New York meeting.

WGA insiders suggested Tuesday that guild leaders' decision to hold the membership meetings before the negotiating committee and WGA West and East boards vote on the contract was designed to underline the rank-and-file's role in supporting the strike -- which has seen continued backing within the guild and from the general public. If members demonstrate clear enthusiasm for the deal, the WGA boards would be hard-pressed not to move quickly on a vote to end the strike.

As the industry holds its collective breath regarding the outcome of Saturday's powwows, guild leaders are urging members not to declare a premature end to the fight. The guild plans to continue picketing today at the usual locations in L.A., with visits from board and negotiating committee members, and in New York.

Saturday's meetings coincide with the date previously scheduled for announcing winners of the WGA Awards. The WGA East will hold a "recognition reception" for award nominees following the afternoon meeting at the Millennium Broadway Hotel's Hudson Theatre -- minus a red carpet and with no tickets for sale. The WGA West cancelled its event a month ago.

Winners will be unveiled at 7 p.m. PT via an announcement posted on the guild's websites. The WGA West does not plan to announce winners at the Shrine given the more pressing business on the agenda. "

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