Writers Guild Gives a Pass To Grammys Telecast

By Lisa de Moraes
Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Striking Hollywood writers snatched victory from the jaws of defeat yesterday when they revealed they had decided not to picket the upcoming Grammy Awards, which means it will be a celebrity-swarm zone.

But the Writers Guild of America's board of directors has not yet decided whether to grant the Recording Academy's trophy show on Feb. 10 an interim agreement, so that two WGA writers can work on the show itself. I know -- who cares, the celebs and their performances are what lure us to the show.

The Writers Guild, West, in an e-mail to members, said its board had voted not to picket the Grammys because members of the American Federation of Musicians "face many of the same issues concerning compensation in new media."

"In the interest of advancing our goal of achieving a fair contract, the WGAW Board felt that this gesture should be made on behalf our brothers and sisters in AFM and the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists," the Writers Guild said.

Early on, it appeared the strategy that had worked so well to kill the Golden Globes on NBC also was going to work its destructive magic on the Grammys. The Reporters Who Cover Television speculated darkly about pop stars who would not attend because they also were members of the Screen Actors Guild.

But then, last week, things started to go awry in the Writers Guild Picket-and-Conquer Trophy Show Game Plan. Unlike the Globes-staging foreign correspondents who junket their way through the entertainment industry under the name Hollywood Foreign Press Association, the Recording Academy refused to curl up in a ball.

It hired crisis management PR firm Sitrick and Co. and issued a statement telling reporters the producer of its CBS-broadcast trophy show had offered the Writers Guild the same interim agreement the guild had accepted from David Letterman's Worldwide Pants production company to get his two CBS late-night shows back to work. The academy mentioned all the good deeds it finances with the license fee it receives for the Grammycast. It let the media know that Beyonc¿ and the Foo Fighters had committed to performing on the show, picket or no.

Then, over the holiday weekend, CBS ran ads saying that a number of other stars, including Carrie Underwood, Rihanna, Chris Brown and Brad Paisley, also were scheduled to appear.

Recording Academy President and CEO Neil Portnow told The TV Column yesterday his organization "absolutely" could have staged the Grammy Awards in the teeth of a Writers Guild picket.

"Remember, the two unions that represent musicians had urged their members to be there," he noted, referring to a statement issued last week by AFM and AFTRA.

Beyonc¿ and Foo Fighters were only the first two names released to the media, Portnow explained, adding, "We're pleased we haven't had to spend time on building further press releases of others who would have said the same thing."

The lack of stars, not writers, was what killed the Globes. After the Writers Guild said it would picket that trophy show, the head of the Screen Actors Guild announced its members would not cross the picket line. NBC, trying to salvage some ad time, turned the traditional three-hour festivities into a one-hour "Billy Bush & Nancy O'Dell Show" with disastrous results. Only 6 million watched.

CBS declared yesterday's announcement "very welcome news."

* * *

In what may be a big break in the strike, the Writers Guild yesterday agreed to back off proposals to unionize writers of reality series and animated programming "to make absolutely clear our commitment to bringing a speedy conclusion to negotiations" with Hollywood studios.

Guild honchos met informally with studio execs to try to jump-start negotiations that have sputtered on and off since the strike began Nov. 5. No negotiations have been held since Dec. 7, when the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers insisted the WGA take reality TV representation and other proposals off the table. Since then, the AMPTP began and concluded within one week a new deal with the Directors Guild of America. Yesterday's developments read very much like a page from the early stages of the directors' contract talks.

The Writers Guild said it had "responded favorably" to the studios' invitation to conduct informal talks to try to lay the groundwork for a return to the negotiating table. The guild also said that during this period it would observe a "complete news blackout."

© 2008 The Washington Post Company