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New York writers rally behind 'significant moment'


After a two-and-a-half-hour-long gathering Saturday, writers streamed out of the third-floor ballroom at the Crowne Plaza Hotel expressing optimism about the deal and pride in the guild's solidarity.

Inside, a smiling Michael Winship, president of WGA East, paced the empty Crowne Plaza ballroom with a cellphone pressed to his ear, relaying the details of the meeting to his counterpart in L.A., Patric Verrone.

After he got off the phone, Winship said the overwhelming share of the more than 500 writers who turned out for the meeting were "very much behind" the new contract.

"We had a very good meeting with the membership," he said. "We had a very lively discussion, a free exchange of ideas. At the moment, I feel strongly that it has a very good chance of going through."

Winship said the guild members had a lot of questions, and they stayed until every one had been answered.

"Basically, people wanted to have the math explained to them," he said. "I think we came away with a good deal," Winship added. "I hope the membership endorses it. We struck on the issues of jurisdiction of new media and distributors' gross, and we made advances in both those areas. So I'm happy."

If the West Coast guild concurs, the union leaders will have to decide tomorrow when to lift the strike. They could wait until the membership votes on the contract, but under the guild's constitution, that vote must be held 48 hours after the board vote, if the members vote through in-person meetings, or 10 days after the board vote, if the members vote by mail. 

"The question is, do you rescind the strike before a membership vote, and some people don't want to do that," said Warren Leight, executive producer of "Law & Order: Criminal Intent."

That could mean the strike won't officially end until midweek. 

But even without a clear sense of when the labor stoppage would be over, there was a sense among the New York writers that they had reached the end of a difficult journey.

Bill Scheft, a writer for the "Late Show with David Letterman," said he knew the contract was a good one when Terry George, a member of the negotiating committee, opened the meeting by saying: "We've defeated a tradition of rollbacks that began with the air traffic controllers."

"To me, that was the most significant moment," Scheft said. "To me, this was all about, do we have a system in place [for new media] where there was no system before. And the answer is yes."

Scheft said the mood in the room was largely positive, but cautioned that "we're talking about the East."

"The Shrine, that's where the action is," he added. 

For his part, filmmaker Michael Moore came out of the meeting substantially more enthusiastic than when he entered.

"This is an historic moment for labor in this country," Moore said. "To have the writers union stand up like we did, not give back a single thing and make them give -- it was a really great moment to sit in there and listen to everything."

More news on the strike

--Matea Gold

Comments () | Archives (1)

It appears that a deal has been struck and will be voted on by the WGA this evening. If approved, the strike will be over and TV can start production again. Most likely, the evening talk shows, The Tonight Show, Late Night, Jimmy Kimmel, The Daily Show and The Colbert Report will start fresh shows on Monday. For scripted series, the delay to fresh shows are still months away. But the landscape for TV has been forever changed.

The Networks will become much more efficient in their spending on shows. Commitments will be made with tighter budgets attached. Should a show make it to pilot form, it will move quickly to series. If a show doesn't perform on network, watch it pop up on cable and vice versa. Don't be surprised to see Psych, Monk, or even Mad Men repurposed on network. A series will complete its 13 episode minimum regardless of its initial rating cause the expectation is that it will be repurposed across cable and the web, to assure it finds a profit. And vertically alligned businesses, like NBC with their hands in each of these distribution points will do especially well. They can effectively spread the risk and increase the return from each of these productions.

At the same time, reality shows are starting to show their age. Survivor's latest adventure recently scored its lowest ratings. Deal or No Deal has gotten so desperate, half the briefcases have to contain $1 million dollars just to keep the viewer's interest. And even American Idol has looked beatable. As fresh content comes back to TV, the ratings for these reality shows will suffer further. The writers strike has gotten them to wear out their welcome.

To me shows like Saturday Night Live will prove even more lucrative to the new model. It generates both short form and long form content for the web (for example all the digital shorts) , it provides a testing ground for actors and writers (Conan O'Brien was a writer on SNL, Tina Fey a writer and performer who was able to create 30 Rock for NBC, the show has been re cut to an hour and syndicated to E!, and it creates commercial parodies, best of's and political specials that are repurposed into prime time specials. It created a DVD of its first 5 years so most likely more will come. Prior to the strike, the guest host was Brian Williams, NBC News anchor who post appearance saw the ratings for NBC News rise. Its been an effective medium to promote other shows as well. And during the strike, various shows and specials filled the prime time air. In short SNL is the golden goose to NBC. It creates original content that can be merchandized and monetized across multiple distribution points. Try doing that with Deal or No Deal!


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