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Writers Guild Bigwigs See a Happy Ending

By Lisa de Moraes
Monday, February 11, 2008

LOS ANGELES, Feb. 10

Striking writers will return to work Wednesday!

ABC's broadcast of the Academy Awards has been saved!

New episodes of your favorite TV shows will rise like a flock of phoenixes in early spring!

Next fall's new TV season has been resuscitated!

Writers Guild biggies announced all this -- and more -- at a hastily called crack-of-dawn (a.k.a. noon) news conference Sunday in Los Angeles.

Groggy WGA big cheeses who'd been up late the previous night unveiling the new contract to writers at the Shrine Auditorium, and bleary-eyed reporters who'd spent the previous evening camped out at the Shrine to speak with exiting writers, convened at Writers Guild of America-West headquarters, across the street from the ne plus ultra shopping mall the Grove (where thespians like Paris Hilton like to hang out and study the little people to hone their acting skills), to officially unveil what the reporters had gleaned during their late-night vigil.

Meetings will be held Tuesday in New York and Los Angeles with the guild's 10,500 striking members to vote on whether to immediately call off the strike, which has dragged on for more than three months. During that time the work stoppage brought production of original scripted TV series to a halt, impeded movie production, made a guild pariah out of NBC late-night host Jay Leno (though not of Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert, who also crossed picket lines to return to work without their writers), killed the Golden Globes ceremony and strapped the Academy Awards to the tracks with the Pacific Surfliner to San Diego bearing down.

In response to the union negotiating committee's recommendation that the new contract be approved, Sunday the Writers Guild's West Coast board and its East Coast council voted separately, and unanimously, to hold a membership ratification vote on the new contract, a process that will take about 12 days to complete, they said.

Show runners -- that is, the writer/producers who actually run production of a show -- can go back to work Monday (so long as they don't write anything) to prepare for the expected thumbs-up vote to end the strike.

All the other writers will be able to go back to work "Tuesday, very very late," or Wednesday, WGA-W President Patric Verrone joked.

"This is the best deal this guild has bargained in 30 years," he boasted, though he also acknowledged that "it is not all we hoped for and it is not all we deserved."

Guild negotiators went in with three goals, Verrone explained. First, jurisdiction of new media. "We achieved that goal." he said. Second, a provision that writers will be paid residuals for programming streamed on the Internet in the third year of the three-year deal.

The third goal, which was not achieved, he said, was to represent writers of reality and animation programming, who are currently not covered by the WGA -- which is why you're seeing so much reality programming on the broadcast networks' prime-time lineups.

"We look forward to continuing those efforts," Verrone said, because people working in those genres "do not receive the benefits they expect or they deserve."

And yet, once again, the guild could not refrain from nicking reality television: Verrone told reporters he'd like to express his "personal gratitude to the fans who understood, and tolerated, three months of reruns and reality TV."

This pales in comparison, though, with the "speechless" video that guild members created for a strike Web site; in it, actor Alan Cumming calls Moviephone to find out what films are playing and the recording says:

For "The Bachelor: The Movie," press 1.

For "Dancing With the Stars: The Movie, Part 4," press 2.

For "American Idol: The Movie," press 6.

The point of Verrone's remark was that without writers, you're going to be stuck with this garbage, but it's still got to sting if you're a reality show writer whom Verrone would like to "represent."

While the votes have not been conducted yet, Verrone, WGA-E President Michael Winship (who was at the news conference via telephone), WGA-W Executive Director and Chief Negotiator David Young and WGA Negotiating Committee Chairman John F. Bowman seemed very confident that these votes would sail through. How confident? Well, in his speech, Verrone thanked his wife.

He also thanked Peter Chernin, president and COO of Fox parent News Corp., and Walt Disney Co. President and CEO Robert Iger, who, along with CBS CEO Leslie Moonves, Verrone said, got the talks back on track after three months "getting nowhere" with the negotiators for the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers.

But Bowman insisted the turning point in the talks was the strike-caused shutdown of the Golden Globe Awards ceremony in January: "Once they realized the creative community was united" and that the writers had the backing of the Screen Actors Guild, the producers realized that "without creative talent in this town, you can't produce anything."

Asked whether he thought the Screen Actors Guild would strike when its contract comes up in June, Verrone said, "No part of this industry wants a second strike. Our hope is they will be able to resolve [a new contract] without a strike, but . . . they have both the wind at their back from what we got, and also they've got the leverage of an industry that just went through a 3 1/2 -month strike" -- the pain of which, he said, might not show up on the studio's fourth-quarter 2007 earnings "but will become much more clear and evident this quarter and next."

* * *

Monday and Tuesday, USA cable network once again will telecast the annual two-night Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show competition from New York City.

Millions of dog fanciers will watch picture-perfect purebreds with lame names such as Felicity's Diamond Jim, Rocky Top's Sundance Kid and Kan-Point's VJK Autumn Roses compete to win best in show.

Only this year, after Monday's portion of the competition, an ad produced by People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals will run on the network, PETA told The TV Column.

"Buy One, Kill One" targets dog breeding -- which, of course, the Westminster show promotes.

The spot depicts a picture-perfect family that just bought a picture-perfect purebred puppy from a breeder.

The breeder tells the Picture-Perfects their puppy will be ready in three weeks.

Then he hands them a body bag.

"Here's the dog you just killed," the smiling breeder tells the Picture-Perfects.

"Oh, my God!" gasps Picture-Perfect Mom.

"What are you doing?" asks Picture-Perfect Dad.

"When you buy a dog from a breeder, you kill a dog in a shelter," the breeder explains.

"I don't want to kill a dog," their daughter -- we suspect she's named Muffy -- wails, picture-perfectly.

"Too late -- you already paid," the breeder says.

The ad will be making its national debut in the Washington market, chosen to try to reach the capital area's "influentials and policymakers," a group rep said.

"Every purebred dog that's born takes a home away from the animal that's already dying for a home at a local shelter," PETA Director Daphna Nachminovitch told The TV Column late last week.

"This nation is forced to euthanize 3 to 4 million dogs and cats in shelters. And that's only half of those that are abandoned in shelters -- America doesn't want between 6 and 8 million dogs and cats" every year, she said.

"When you have a show like Westminster touting so-called full-blooded dogs and holding them on a pedestal, you're encouraging people to go and purchase one.

"We want to make sure Joe Public knows when you buy from a breeder, you play a part in an animal's death at a shelter. It's really that simple.

"Our hope is that Monday night, people watching the [Westminster] show will see the [ad], and that before tuning back in on Tuesday they will have a different perspective of what it is they're looking at."

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