Is American Idol crippling the writers' strike?

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Dec. 12 2007 1:15 PM

The Big Gun

Is American Idol crippling the writers' strike?

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Writers on strike. Click image to expand.
Writers on strike

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.

The fact that NBC is refunding money to advertisers because of bad ratings—which weren't a result of the strike—does drive home the point that the networks are watching their audience disintegrate. And taking a break from popular shows like The Office, while instead programming stuff like American Gladiators and repeats of Law & Order: Criminal Intent (which had been relegated to the USA Network) probably won't improve the situation.

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Still, several of the networks and studios have reasons to keep this thing going. Fox has American Idol in the on-deck circle and can afford to play hardball, as Rupert Murdoch has been known to do in fights with unions. Warner doesn't have a TV network to worry about, and the strike gives it a chance to offload some deals—perhaps starting with the very expensive and unproductive one with J.J. Abrams. One network source even speculates that Warner and CBS might use the strike as a reason to cut their losses and fold the CW—though a CBS executive scoffed at that notion.

Meanwhile, the order of things is shifting. The winter gathering of the Television Critics Association, at which networks promote their new wares, has been called off. The May upfronts, that lavish ritual during which networks woo advertisers, are questionable.

It seems clear that the networks and studios, at this point, are unwilling to give anything that could be called a victory to the Writers Guild. The betting is that they'll negotiate with the more accommodating Directors Guild in January, make a deal that the writers may not find acceptable, and then confront the Screen Actors Guild, who will have had some time to contemplate the long winter of the starved-out writers.

Where this will finally leave the business is hardly clear. At this point it seems that if the network business really is the Titanic, everyone is going down with the ship. (link)

Dec. 5, 2007

Kite Runner. Click image to expand.
Ahmad Khan Mahmoodzada and Zekiria Ebrahimi

Whew: If you read Monday's New York Times story on the kids from the Kite Runner movie, you might have heaved a sigh of relief right along with the folks at Paramount.

"The 'Kite Runner' boys are safely out of Kabul," the story began. "After months of worrying and diplomatic wrangling from half a world away, the movie studio that is releasing the tale of childhood betrayal, ethnic tension and sexual predation in Afghanistan has whisked to safety four young actors. They were feared to be vulnerable to reprisal because of the film's depiction of a culturally inflammatory rape scene."