The WGA is saying that CBS news writers are ''strongly considering" a December 10th strike date. The timing appears to be an attempt by union leadership to disrupt CBS plans for a presidential debate the same day. That's because several Democratic White House candidates like Barack Obama, John Edwards and Hillary Clinton have all said they won't cross a picket line to participate in a debate. So far no exact date is set for a strike, which was authorized by the rank and file earlier this month. The writers working for both the CBS network newscasts and local news stations have been working without a contract for 2 1/2 years.
Tuesday was the day that the writers and the producers were supposed to start considering "new business" during their resumed contract negotiations. But, instead, they just kept focused on old business. Day #2 was supposed to be "when they really start advancing the ball forward" and "where the rubber can really meet the road," according to its advance billing. Instead, it was the same old same old.
Again, negotiators for the AMPTP presented that "very comprehensive proposal which laid out to all the entire roadmap to the deal" and, again, addressed every single issue. And, again, negotiators for the WGA listened and, again, kept getting up to caucus.
But where was the new stuff?
The reps for the studios and networks keep telling me about at least two improvements in their comprehensive proposal presented Monday compared to what was on the table back on Sunday November 4th when the talks broke off and the strike began. "But they also feel that the writers weren't paying attention and didn't absorb the proposal back then. So, basically, they presented back what they proposed on November 4th," an insider in that camp explains to me.
It took a couple of hours, I'm told, for the AMPTP to do this. "They went over the proposal point by point as though they were delivering a new proposal," a different source explained to me. "But it was the exact same proposal, though they restated their positions in a friendlier manner."
Yet I've been repeatedly told by people in a position to know that the networks and studios dostill hope that will be done sooner rather than later. But it's truly baffling to me exactly why the AMPTP is slowing down the process when, if anything, it should be speeded up especially with Christmas looming. On the other hand, this is a favorite negotiating tactic of AMPTP president Nick Counter: to repeatedly offer little new until the guilds are forced to negotiate against themselves by continually reducing their demands. (Which is one reason why the writers now are toying with a provocative new tactic of raising have new stuff to present, and the writers their demands at every bargaining session.)
My question is: have the Hollywood moguls authorized Counter to delay? (Which, if so, will give fuel to the fire that the studios and networks just agreed to these talks purely for their PR value and are instead adhering to their individual timetables to declare force majeure. If the moguls think they're badly losing the PR war now, which they are, just wait until that happens.) Or has Counter talked them into this strategy because he thinks it'll work now just as it has in the past?
But that was then, and this is now. I'm hearing phrases like "jaw-dropping", "mind-boggling" and "you can gape at the chutzpah" to describe Tuesday's session. But I also hear the writers are determined not to feel frustrated or angry. "You've got to admire the kabuki of it," a source told me. "You can look at this as some really sophisticated and interesting negotiating tactic, or as stonewalling. But it's also paralysis. It's one thing to go back but another to not move at all."
Still, an insider is convinced that what happened at Tuesday's session "is like two cars just sitting there getting ready for a game of chicken. Neither one wants to go first. Both sides will get past this. I don't know when, but they will."
I understand the writers will spend this AM caucusing to figure out their next move.
News from Tuesday:
I find lateshowwritersonstrike.com consistently the funniest strike blog out there. Some recent gems you may have missed:
BILL SCHEFT'S STRIKE RELATED DAVE-TYPE MONOLOGUE JOKE OF THE DAY: The hookers in Times Square, God Bless 'em, are now offering their "Writers Strike Special." It's $29.95, but if you let them make a DVD, they'll give you back four cents.
THE AMPTP'S CONTRACT PROPOSAL ...BY JOE GROSSMAN... Today, the WGA and AMPTP resumed negotiations, and inside sources say the producers finally offered the writers a contract that would pay us using a simple, straightforward formula. Here's how it works.
-- The pay-per-letter contract: $0.00 for every use of the letters A, B, C, D, E, F, G, H, I, J, K, L, M, N, O, P, R, S, T, U, V, W, X, Y, Z.
-- .0125¢ for every Q and anything with an umlaut.
Negotiation Ground Rules ...BY STEVE YOUNG ... The WGA and the AMPTP have agreed that Monday's negotiations will be governed by the following rules:
-- Each side may bring one giant inflatable animal.
-- No hot-dogging or show-boating.
-- During the 15 minute break, there will be a musical performance by the National Labor Relations Board's "Rappin' Mediator."
-- The AMPTP must withdraw excessively unfavorable proposals if the WGA team chants "Hey hey, ho ho, corporate greed has got to go."
-- Each negotiating team member must bring a covered dish.
-- To determine the final internet residuals formula, the WGA will pick one of 26 silver briefcases held by models.
-- The session will begin with an attempt to resolve a minor negotiating issue: the WGA wants to be able to sit at the table, while the AMPTP is demanding 100% of the chairs for themselves.
I should start this post by noting that everyone I know, young and old, doesn't get lunkhead NBC's Last Call host Carson Daly's appeal. Indeed, I've seen chimps with better TV charisma and good looks and interviewing skills. And yet NBC at the time was so delighted about hiring him just because he dated starlets and pop stars and smarmed MTV. So the network is more enthusiastic than ever now that Daly today announced that he is the first of the late night hosts returning to the air despite the ongoing writers walkout. He plans to resume taping Wednesday for new episodes that will begin airing next week. "He wanted to go back to support his staffers," the network spokeswoman said. NBC has informed the non-writing staff of Daly's show, as well as Jay Leno's and Conan O'Brien's, that they face layoffs at the end of this week unless the shows return to the airwaves. (Meanwhile, NBC is so desperate to get Leno back behind The Tonight Show desk that it's humiliating him with "vintage" episodes which should be destroyed, not aired.)
Tonight, the striking Writers Guild of America issued this statement of criticism: “We’re disappointed at Carson Daly’s decision to return to work. Mr. Daly is not a writer and not a member of the WGA, unlike other late-night hosts Jay Leno, David Letterman, Conan O’Brien, Craig Ferguson, and Jimmy Kimmel, who have all resisted network pressure and honored our writers’ picket lines. We hope he’ll change his mind and follow the lead of the other late-night hosts.”
The late night shows have not been in production during the entire November sweeps. Since the repeats don’t generate the same ratings as original shows, the networks have to give sponsors free spots or “give backs” at a cost of millions. Ergo all the pressure from CBS and NBC and ABC on its late night hosts. So the fact that Dave, Jay, Conan, Craig and Jimmy -- all members of the WGA, which Carson is not -- have stayed out much longer than anyone thought would happen (especially in light of 1988) is a major concern to the networks and a major boon to the WGA.
But back to Daly. Today he's also accused of setting up a "joke hotline" as a strike breaking effort -- prompting the WGA to scold "We’re especially appalled at Mr. Daly’s call for non-Guild writers to provide him with jokes." The Smoking Gun published an email purportedly from Daly detailing how he asked a small group of contacts to call in "suggested jokes" to a telephone hotline, noting that he would "play some, most, or all of your jokes on the air." The bit, Daly stressed, was not meant to "make fun" of his striking writers. He added that his goal was to just "play a fun collage of random people trying to 'help me out.'" The bit's set-up, Daly wrote in his Sunday night e-mail was that "the devastating writers strike" led to "A TON of my friends and family...calling me, leaving messages, offering their help with jokes because they know that I don't have any writers working and hosting a late night show without them will be nearly impossible for me." It's all online, barf bag not included.
Today's Writers Guild of America East (WGAE) and Labor Community Solidarity Rally held in NYC's Washington Square Park was a major celebfest. Almost 1,000 members of the labor community were on hand, including striking writers from the WGAE and WGAW; and representatives from 15 unions including SAG (whose NY president, Sam Freed, is pictured at the podium above), AFTRA, DGA, SEIU, UNITE-HERE, AFT, the national and local AFL-CIOs and the New York City Central Labor Council. Democratic presidential candidate John Edwards spoke to the crowd reaffirming his commitment not to cross WGA picket lines at ABC's The View and also the upcoming CBS-sponsored Democratic debate. (Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton sent statements.) Actors, writers, and politicians gathered and The Huffington Post's Patrick Waldo capture them on video, including 30 Rock's Tina Fey and Jack McBrayer, SNL's Amy Poehler and Seth Meyers, Sex and the City's Kristin Davis and Evan Handler, The Office's Rashida Jones, Tim Robbins, Danny Glover, Gilbert Gottfried, Lost's Michael Emerson, David Chase, Tony Goldwyn, Edie Falco, Joe Pantoliano, B.J. Novak, Michael Nouri, Julianna Margulies, Anthony Edwards, Eric Begosian, Nancy Giles, John Slattery, Richard Belzer, David Proval, Colin Quinn, and Aasif Mandvi, Tom Fontana, Raven Metzner, Michael Rauch, Jack McBrayer, Frank Gilroy, Peter Hedges, and most of the staffs of The Late Show, SNL, Colbert, etc.
Tomorrow, the WGAE again pickets Time Warner Center from 10:00 AM to 2:00 PM.