December 3, 2023

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How did the WGA’s initial deal with AMPTP come about?

How did the WGA’s initial deal with AMPTP come about?

On Saturday, September 23, Disney CEO Bob Iger was in Beverly Hills, looking like he’s living his best life. He was having dinner with Paul McCartney and Eagles alum Joe Walsh at La Dolce Vita, an old-style Italian restaurant with long white tablecloths and dark red leather booths. Some people were discreetly taking photos, as would be expected with the Beatles in the house.

But not everyone was focused only on McCartney. By the time dinner was over, blurry photos of Iger at the table with McCartney were posted in a WhatsApp group chat of nearly 500 participants. Then someone posted a photo of a bottle of whiskey labeled “Tears of the Book” (yes, an actual brand), suggesting they send it to Iger’s table. No one did, but the table received a batch of shots with a note saying: “As expected, from Hollywood showrunners.”

For days there have been reports that the Writers Guild and studios were very close to an agreement that could end a strike that has lasted for nearly five exhausting months. But while Iger enjoyed Saturday dinner, there was no deal.

That finally changed the following evening when an anxious town was informed of a tentative agreement described by the union leadership as “exceptional” with “meaningful gains and protections for writers.” Although details had not been revealed by press time, jubilant union members filled the barrel-shaped Idle Hour bar in North Hollywood to celebrate.

The deal was the result of several long days of negotiation between the union and four studio heads: Iger, the CEO of Warner Bros. Discovery David Zaslav, NBCUniversal Chief Content Officer Donna Langley, and Netflix Co-CEO Ted Sarandos. Just weeks ago, on August 22, union representatives met with these executives only to end up attacking them in a late-night letter to members. Instead of finally getting a chance to negotiate with executives, the union’s bargaining committee said, “We were met with a lecture about how good the one and only counteroffer was.”

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What followed was a confrontation over who owed whom the counteroffer. By late August, with talks faltering amid mutual accusations, several of the series’ creators – including Kenya Barris (blackish), Noah Hawley (Fargo(And Courtney Kemp)power) – He began inquiring about the union leadership. “Obviously people like Kenya want information. There was no coup,” says one showrunner. “We were just asking the questions that were on everyone’s minds. The thing about producers is that they are CEOs in their own right, running huge companies with huge studio deals. Noah Hawley, for example, has two shows and employs a thousand people. We were all doing our part to get people back from the brink of bankruptcy and back to work. Another adds: “The WGA dug its heels in and felt it [the AMPTP] He had to call us. Then Chris Keyser, [co-chair of the WGA’s negotiating committee], I started hearing from staff members too that they should do something. The anger was not about the strike or the demand for withdrawal; “It was anger that there was no attempt to restart things.”

The deep impasse between the studios and the guild finally began to thaw on the evening of September 10, when Kiser called Iger and engaged in a conversation that lasted more than an hour and, according to sources familiar with the matter, was “extremely honest and direct.” ” That night he also spoke with Zaslav, Sarandos, and Langley. They agreed that there was no point in arguing over which side owed the other a counteroffer; the goal was to get the industry back to work, to end the misery that had spread far beyond union membership and to prevent what some feared. Executives could be lasting damage to the company. Iger committed to staying in the room as long as necessary to achieve the goal, as did the other three executives on the team. They each cleared their calendars.

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Once negotiations resumed on September 20, it was clear that Iger was the elder statesman and the only leader to fight the last writers’ strike. Zaslav, who had minimal experience in the scenario world, was still an experienced negotiator in many difficult deals. Langley brought a level-headed mind and highly practical creative experience, as well as strong relationships with talent. One source described her as the “diplomat” in the room. Sources say Sarandos, in the lead-up to the final marathon negotiations, spent more time reaching out to SAG-AFTRA than to the WGA but eventually aligned himself with the other three.

The executives’ pledge to remain in the room until an agreement was reached was challenged on the afternoon of September 21, when the CEOs thought they were inches away from reaching an agreement. After much slowness in the first part of negotiations, the studio group presented a package they believed addressed the union’s key concerns — minimum headcount in the writers’ room, AI protections, and success-based residuals for broadcast. According to sources, the guild came up with what the studio viewed as a late request, seeking a deal point that would protect members if they refused to cross other guilds’ picket lines, though the WGA had been indicating for weeks that it would seek such a provision. Iger angrily left the room, as did the other executives. According to the sources, Zaslav said to the other side: What are you guys doing? We’re on the 10-yard line… We’ve given you almost everything you said you wanted. Iger returned briefly to warn union negotiators that this was a dangerous moment that required them to think carefully. Sources say Kiser eventually reached out to Iger and talks resumed.

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WGA spokesman Bob Hopkinson disputed the above account, but declined to elaborate. Studio bosses declined to comment.

While the deal still needs to be approved by union members, the hope is that the studios can then reach an agreement with SAG-AFTRA relatively quickly and get the city back to work. However, even with the prospect of peace on the horizon, there are those in the guild who feel that the challenges to their profession will continue. They fear the industry will shrink, alienating young and diverse writers, as the content bubble shrinks from its highs of 600 originals written in the US. In other words, the golden age of the book may be over, at least for the foreseeable future.

“Everyone will call it before and after the strike, but it’s actually before primetime TV and after primetime TV,” says one well-known presenter.

Leslie Goldberg contributed reporting.