Here Come the Directors!
The writers' strike gets more complex. Plus: Will Spielberg ankle the Beijing Olympics?
A ction: Updating a couple of stories here, from strike to Spielberg.
The Writers Guild cannot be pleased with the late-night situation. Jay Leno and Conan O'Brien have already announced that they're going back on-air without writers in January. Meanwhile, David Letterman is seeking an interim deal for his production company, Worldwide Pants, which owns and produces his show.
Bear in mind that the union has gone to the National Labor Relations Board to complain that the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers has refused to bargain in good faith. That argument could get at least some traction, according to our legal department, but it will probably take a long time to work its way through the system. Meanwhile the WGA is asking companies to break ranks and negotiate individually. Letterman's company has jumped at the chance, and hence the problem: If Letterman gets the deal and gets to return with his writers, that penalizes Leno's writers. "It means the Leno writers say, 'Why not us?' " says an influential guild member. "The answer is, 'You're on an NBC-produced show.' But the subtleties are lost when your rival goes on the air."
Dealing more broadly, all eyes are on the Directors Guild of America, which is likely to start negotiations next month. The DGA has spent time and money studying the key issue of new media, and it has said that it will share its information with the Writers Guild in a move that may or may not be helpful. If the directors have concluded that they will fight hard for a deal that the writers can accept, help may be on the way. If not, not. In that case, the probability is that the writers will remain on strike awaiting the cavalry, a role played by members of the Screen Actors Guild, whose contract ends in June.
Now for Spielberg: During the summer, we reported on his dilemma with respect to his role as an adviser to the Chinese on the '08 Olympics. Recall that Spielberg was pushing China to push the Sudanese government to address the situation in Darfur. He had written to the Chinese in April urging action.
Last week, Spielberg released a letter that he sent to the Chinese president in November. In it, he said that he had gone to New York to meet with the Chinese envoy to Sudan (that happened in September) and had hoped that "China was willing to use its influence to bring an end to the genocide." Since then, he continued, the situation in Darfur has deteriorated and China's silence on the subject is "disturbing." Unless the Sudanese government acts, Spielberg said, a U.N. peace-keeping force will not be able to deploy in January.
Apparently Spielberg's letter has been met with silence from the Chinese. We are told that he has not attended a meeting on the Olympics since February. If we were the wagering kind, we'd look for Spielberg to exit his role in the not-distant future. The question is whether that will inspire others to follow suit. (link)
Dec. 12, 2007
Reality bites: If you've followed the Writers Guild strike at all, you know that talks between the studios and the writers collapsed Friday and that the rhetoric is, once again, vituperative. We saw a picketer in front of Sony Pictures with a sign addressed to Nick Counter of the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers that read, "Hey Nick, Count This," illustrated by a picture of a hand with middle digit extended.
At this point, everyone's convinced that the studios are in it for the long haul. It appears that they are not interested, and possibly never were, in negotiating with the writers. Some studios may be less hawkish than others, but the more hawkish are in control.
Kim Masters is an NPR correspondent and the author of The Keys to the Kingdom: The Rise of Michael Eisner and the Fall of Everyone Else.
Still from the Late Show With David Letterman by John Paul Filo/CBS. All rights reserved. Photograph of writers on strike by David McNew/Getty Images; Still from The Kite Runner by Phil Bray © 2007 Dreamworks LLC and Kite Runner Holdings. All rights reserved.