Writers Guild, Producers Have a Deal — Except for TV Hitch

Writers Guild, Producers Have a Deal — Except for TV Hitch

Everything is resolved the union says, except for “exclusivity” provisions on short-order series

The Writers Guild and Hollywood studios and networks have agreed on the details of a new contract, the union's lead negotiators say — but have one sticky TV issue outstanding.

The two sides will take a break and and resume talks on March 31, the WGA's President Chris Keyser and Negotiating Chairmen Billy Ray and Chip Johannessen said in a letter to the membership Thursday night. It's the second break in the bargaining, which began on Feb. 3, recessed on Feb. 15 and began again on March 4.

The hangup is over producers keeping writers “exclusive” to a program during a show's hiatus — which happens more frequently now that many programs, particularly on cable, have shorter seasons.

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The Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers didn't comment on the guild's letter, but had to be encouraged to have the contract all but wrapped. The two sides can work independently on a solution to the TV issue, and then will have a month to reach agreement before their current contract expires on May 1.

If they do, SAG-AFTRA will be the only one of Hollywood's creative guilds without a new deal, since the Directors Guild of America signed off on a three-year contract in November. The actors’ deal expires on June 30.

The changing nature of the TV production cycle is what makes the exclusivity issue so important, the guild leaders said.

“For over 50 years, writing for television operated on a predictable schedule. Staffs on dramatic prime-time shows worked for 10 months to produce 22 episodes, then went on unpaid hiatus for two months before returning for the following season,” reads the letter.

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“But with the advent of basic cable, pay TV and now Netflix-type Internet shows, that changed. Short orders of 13, 10, or even 8 episodes are now the norm, and the predictability of the old broadcast season has vanished. As you have told us in showrunner meetings and scores of show visits, these two developments — short orders and uncertain schedules — have combined to create a serious problem for many writers.”

The WGA's deal is expected to be along the lines of the DGA's, which included an annual three percent wage increase; increased residuals bases; significant improvements in basic cable; the establishment, for the first time, of minimum terms and conditions for high-budget new media made for subscription video-on-demand such as Netflix; and establishment of a formal diversity program at every major TV studio.

In the last round of bargaining n 2011, the WGA, DGA, SAG and AFTRA all negotiated a two percent annual gain in minimums and a 1.5 percent increase in employer contributions to the pension and health plans.

“There's a deal on the table and both sides really do want to get it done,” attorney Alan Brunswick, a labor specialist at Manatt, Phelps & Phillips and former vice-president and in-house counsel with the AMPTP, told TheWrap. “I think both sides realize that they can't do business without each other, and the last thing they want to do is relive the strike.”

The WGA staged a bitter 100-day strike in 2007-08, the effects of which knocked Hollywood production out of kilter for months. New media jurisdiction was the hot-button issue then.