Monday, December 17, 2007

Hollywood writers try to jumpstart talks

Faced with the indefinite suspension of negotiations, the union representing striking Hollywood writers told its members Saturday it would try to deal directly with Hollywood studios and production companies, bypassing the umbrella organization that has been representing them.

The news was welcomed by the company that produces David Letterman's "Late Show," which said it hoped to broker a deal that would put the talk show host and his writers back to work.

Talks broke off Dec. 7 after the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers, which represents the studios, insisted it would not bargain further unless the Writers Guild of America dropped proposals that included the authority to unionize writers on reality shows and animation projects.

Both sides in the strike, which began Nov. 5, have said the central issue is compensation for programs, movies and other content streamed or downloaded over the Internet.

"As you know, the AMPTP is currently unwilling to bargain with us," the guild said in a letter delivered to its members Saturday. "The internal dynamics of the AMPTP make it difficult for the conglomerates to reach consensus and negotiate with us on a give-and-take basis. We believe this multi-employer structure inhibits individual companies from pursuing their self-interest in negotiations."

While saying the guild still hoped the producers would return to the bargaining table, the union added that it had decided to approach production companies individually and would begin doing so on Monday.

"We want to do everything in our power to move negotiations forward and end this devastating strike," the guild said in a letter signed by chief negotiator John Bowman and others. The union said it was delivered to members of both the Writers Guild of America West and Writers Guild of America East.

"This is merely the latest indication that the WGA organizers are grasping for straws and have never had a coherent strategy for engaging in serious negotiations," alliance spokesman Jesse Hiestand said in a statement. "The AMPTP may have different companies with different assets in different businesses, but they are all unified in one common goal - to reach an agreement with writers that positions everyone in our industry for success in a rapidly changing marketplace."

One independent company, Letterman's Worldwide Pants, indicated it was willing to negotiate individually.

Letterman himself is a member of the WGA, as is his show's executive producer, Rob Burnett.

"Worldwide Pants has always been a writer-friendly company," Burnett said in a statement. "Since the beginning of the strike, we have expressed our willingness to sign an interim agreement with the guild consistent with its positions in this dispute. We're happy that the guild has now adopted an approach that might make this possible. It is our strong desire to be back on the air with our writers and we hope that will happen as soon as possible."

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