MEDIA

An end to screen wars

PAMELA YOUNG August 15 1988
MEDIA

An end to screen wars

PAMELA YOUNG August 15 1988

An end to screen wars

MEDIA

The effects of the U.S. scriptwriters’ strike were becoming zanily obvious. Last week, material was so scarce that the producers of NBC’S Late Night With David Letterman resorted to a “fill-in” segment, taking cameras into the program’s control booth where a crew member held up snapshots of anonymous people. For his part, remarked a rueful Letterman, the mooted end of the strike was coming none too soon. In fact, on Aug. 3, negotiators for the 9,000-member Writers Guild of America (WGA) reached a tentative settlement with the representatives of the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers, signalling the end of a bitter, 22-week-old strike. The dispute—the longest in U.S. film and TV history since the WGA’s 22-week walkout in 1960—has caused widespread layoffs in the entertainment industry and delayed the start of the new fall TV season. No clear victors emerged from the conflict, which was expected to end formally with a membership vote on Aug. 7. Said Del Reisman, cochairman of the WGA negotiating committee: “We wound up with less than most of us hoped for, but it is

the first improvement in 18 years.” Executives for the major production studios hope to begin commissioning scripts and resuming full operations, although not immediately. Said Kim LeMasters, president of CBS Entertainment: “I do not anticipate anything being in production before six to eight weeks.” LeMasters is aiming to have

A settlement in the 22week-long screenwriters' strike means that U.S. TV networks can begin salvaging the fall season

new situation comedies—and new episodes of such returning series as Newhart and Kate & Allie—on the air by late October. Meanwhile, ABC Entertainment president Brandon Stoddard has said that his network expects to première most of its fall schedule close to the mid-November air date of its 18-hour mini-series War and Remembrance. In the meantime, most networks will resort to a

variety of hole-plugging programming-including reruns and expanded news coverage—until the fall shows are ready.

For its part, the writers’ guild won greater creative control over scripts but did not fare as well financially. One major reason for the strike was that the producers wanted to roll back residual payments for one-hour shows sold into syndication after their original network runs. The formula in the new contract links the fees to the strength of a show’s sales instead of paying a fixed amount. Writers had been getting about $19,200 in residuals for a one-hour show. Now, they stand to get as little as $10,000 or as much as $29,000 depending on the show’s popularity in syndication.

Clearly, the strike has taken a significant toll. Toward the end, the WGA was under considerable pressure to settle from a splinter group called the Writers’ Coalition. And Paul Kagan Associates, a Carmel, Calif., communications consulting firm, is predicting a 10-percent drop in prime-time network viewing this fall. Like one long, atrocious sitcom pilot, the fall season is shaping up to be no laughing matter.

-PAMELA YOUNG with ANNE GREGOR in Los Angeles

ANNE GREGOR