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Column
Writers' Strike, Take Two
by Scott Holleran
The Writers Guild of America logo
February 12, 2008

Burbank, California—News broke this weekend that the Writers Guild of America (WGA) strike in Hollywood may be headed for a member-supported resolution—with a condition that ought to prompt each member to thoroughly read the agreement. According to the WGA, members will have that opportunity during a ratification process that allows them to consider the three-year tentative contract before a final vote in the next several days.

In the meantime, members will vote whether to end the strike—having had just 48 hours to cast a ballot—which puts the cart before the horse. In a statement yesterday, WGA President Patric Verrone described the short notice election over whether to end the strike before ratification as a "special vote." Members may vote by proxy.

A couple of days isn't much time. Why the rush to end the strike, which began on Nov. 5, 2007, before the writers approve an agreement?

Hollywood's establishment, especially the entertainment press, has tried to lay a guilt trip on the union since the strike was initiated. This argument was based on altruism—the idea that writers should put self-interest aside for the sake of those who have been adversely affected. There has been particular disdain for striking writers over whether the Academy Awards would be upstaged by the contract dispute, as if awards, not the creation of motion pictures, are what moves Hollywood.

The strike's goals, such as better compensation and so-called "separated rights," are based on legitimate concerns (the studios never really made a case to the public) so this quick-end-it-now approach blurs the union's clear contractual victory.

Ending the strike prematurely may impair the union's future bargaining ability; it means a strike can be stopped prior to reading and approving the fine print—a bad precedent from the writer's perspective. Because writers are now under pressure to decide in time for the Oscars to be telecast with celebrities—otherwise, the show would be picketed—the lasting impression may be that writers ended their strike without an actual contract rather than that writers gained most of what they wanted.

Guild writers profit by most accounts and the WGA deserves credit for consistently putting the writers' position at the forefront of the debate. But their victory may not be the last word.

Studios

WGA President Patric Verrone's statement acknowledged the efforts of Fox's Peter Chernin and Disney's Robert Iger, who represented the movie studios in brokering the deal. Mr. Iger's improving his track record on a number of fronts, helping to navigate the strike and leading his company to a profitable quarter.

Disney's theme park business spiked an impressive 11 percent in spite of the economic downturn, an increase which, coupled with a string of movie hits, such as National Treasure: Book of Secrets and the Hannah Montana concert, and success in cable and home entertainment, like the High School Musical franchise, add up to double digit returns on investments. Mr. Iger, who gave a sober and optimistic interview to CNBC last week, is a bright spot in the nation's troubled economy.

News

CNBC's sister network, MSNBC—Microsoft's joint venture with NBC News—punished one of its best assets, political reporter David Shuster, for pointing out that the Hillary Clinton presidential campaign is using an adult Clinton relative to get nominated—he used a slang term, the same one recently used in an Oscar-winning Best Song—prompting supposed outrage from the Clinton camp. What a crock.

That MSNBC suspended Shuster, who is a total professional, is the real outrage. How can anyone take seriously a campaign that employs another prominent relative—the former president who is the candidate's spouse—who openly discussed his underwear on national television and despicably played the race card against Sen. Barack Obama a few weeks ago? Informative Shuster, who already apologized for his choice of words, is part of TV's best political coverage. He should be reinstated without delay.

In other news, Roy Scheider has died. He was 75. Though known for his cop roles in The French Connection and Jaws, he was underestimated for top performances in Robert Benton's thriller Still of the Night, in Bob Fosse's All That Jazz and in the 1973 New York City action picture The Seven-Ups. Sad-eyed Scheider was a strong, reliable screen presence during five decades of motion pictures and he'll be missed.

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RELATED ARTICLES
• 1/18/08 - Scott Holleran: Writers' Strike, Take One
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