WGA Members Vote to End Strike
Posted Wednesday, February 13, 2008 12:14:29 AM
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The strike by the Writers Guild of America is over. Members voted overwhelmingly on Tuesday to head back to work. Though a new contract has not yet been approved, it is already beginning to look like business as usual in Hollywood.

Striking Writers Guild of America members have voted overwhelmingly to end their three month work stoppage. Even though the union has yet to approve a new contract, writers are scheduled to return to work today and try to return some sort of semblance of order to Hollywood.

WGA members met in New York and Beverly Hills on Tuesday to vote on a preliminary agreement between the guild and the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers (AMPTP). The combined New York-Beverly Hills vote count overwhelmingly approved ending the strike: 3,492 votes in favor of returning to work, with only 283 voting to continue the strike.

The deal puts to rest the biggest issue of the work stoppage: how writers are compensated when their work is streamed onto the Internet or used in other forms of so-called "new media." Under a tentative contract approved Sunday by the union's board of directors, writers would get a maximum flat fee of about $1,200 for programs streamed onto the Internet in the deal's first two years and then get two-percent of a distributor's gross in year three.

Pressure to reach an agreement mounted after the AMPTP reached a tentative contract with the Directors Guild of America on January 17th. Informal talks between the studio heads and the union picked up the following week, marking the first time the two sides had sat down since talks broke off on December 6th.

During the strike, nearly all forms of entertainment grinded to a halt. Without writers, primetime series were unable to produce scripts for new episodes. Networks were forced to air reruns, hurry production of already-penned midseason replacements, and fill scheduling voids with unscripted programming such as reality series and news specials. Awards shows were scrapped because there were no writers to pen monologues and actors honored the writers' picket lines, refusing to attend ceremonies where WGA members were striking.

Daytime, however, was mostly unfazed by the strike. Somehow the soaps continued to put out their usual five weekday episodes week in and week out. Exactly how daytime pushed on where other genres failed is a mixture of foresight and luck. Most daytime drama series stockpiled scripts well in advance of the strike. The cushion allowed the soaps to continue normal production well into the strike. As the number of reserve scripts dwindled, networks executives stepped in to help write new material. Several writers invoked a financial hardship clause in their union membership in order to return to work. The financial core, or "fi-core," out allowed these writers to remain on the job while still maintaining their WGA membership. The most notable among those taking "fi-core" status were All My Children's head writers James Harmon Brown and Barbara Esensten.

Other soaps operated by using "scab" writers -- non-union members or union members secretly crossing the picket lines - to put together their shows. More than 130 striking daytime writers signed their names to a letter asserting their loyalty to the WGA and denying any allegations of strike-breaking.

During the strike, NBC's Days of our Lives fired its entire writing staff. In total, nine members were sent packing. Now, however, with the strike over, the show is reportedly re-hiring all of the unemployed scribes. According to a post on blog site Deadline Hollywood, a daytime source reported that "the staff of Days of Our Lives, who had all been fired last week, were getting their jobs back. And that a striking writer, if fired, had to be replaced by a striking writer. Not a scab, and not a fi-core member."

While daytime continues on with its business as usual attitude, there are expected to be some shake ups. Top-rated CBS soap The Young and the Restless is widely believed to be chomping at the bit to fire head writer Lynn Marie Latham. Latham, who also serves as executive producer on the show, refused to perform any non-writing duties for Y&R during the strike. Though it is not believed that Latham would be fired for that reason alone, the show's sagging ratings and growing discontent among viewers certainly makes her position much more precarious.

Primetime television is expected to take much longer to rebound. At best, new episodes of popular primetime series will not appear for another month. ABC plans to have new episodes of several of its primetime hits, such as "Desperate" and "Ugly Betty" by late-April. The network's "Boston Legal" is expected to be the first show to have the cameras rolling, with production resuming as early as next week. CBS is moving ahead with new episodes of its three editions of "CSI." NBC is predicted to focus on bringing back its higher rated sitcoms. Many programs may not return until the new Fall season.

According to Jack Kyser, the chief economist for the Los Angeles Economic Development Corp., the strike cost Los Angeles nearly $3.2 billion in direct and indirect costs.

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