Company heads criticize WGA's Young on talks

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UPDATED 6:15 p.m. PT Nov. 30

On Friday, the CEOs awakened.

Heads of studio-parent conglomerates have been mostly silent about the prospects for ending the four-week-old writers strike, quietly assuring Wall Street all would be OK. But it appears that pinstriped group has issued a collective "No more Mr. Nice Guy."

In a plan orchestrated after the last bargaining session between the WGA and the Alliance of Motion Picture & Television Producers, several top company heads smiled and dialed members of the Fourth Estate, letting the press corps know how management feels about the guild and its chief negotiator, WGA West exec director David Young.

"I do think this whole thing calls into question David Young's ability to make a deal," one top management exec said. "He has no experience in these sorts of negotiations, and so perhaps there is something to that theory that they're not being capable of making a deal.

"You can say what you want about the AMPTP, but for 20 years they've been able to make a deal," the exec added. "The fact is that you have to wonder about the current leadership at the WGA and its ability to get something done here."

The verbal broadside follows a Thursday negotiating session in which the AMPTP offered new proposals for new-media compensation that it claimed would "deliver more than $130 million in additional compensation above and beyond the more than $1.3 billion writers already receive each year."

The WGA asked to study the proposals and reconvene negotiations Tuesday. Then the guild issued a public statement dismissing the proposals.

"For streaming television episodes, the companies proposed a residual structure of a single fixed payment of less than $250 for a years reuse of an hourlong program (and) for theatrical product, they are offering no residuals whatsoever for streaming."

On Friday, a management source confirmed the guild's estimate. The company insider also suggested that the figure wasn't any sort of "final offer," but the gist of comments by a more senior exec suggested that current guild leaders don't understand collective-bargaining protocol.

WGA brass has simply dug in its heels on too many of its original negotiating demands, the top executive argued.

"I remain hopeful, but obviously I'm dubious," the exec said. "It's unclear why -- if they want to make a deal -- they would wait 96 hours even to respond (formally). Certainly the ball is in their court, but it makes you wonder if they are capable of making a deal."

WGA negotiating committee chairman John Bowman rejected any notion that guild negotiators are too inexperienced or unskilled to construct a deal with the AMPTP.

"From my sense, the problem with negotiations is that (the AMPTP) never wanted to deal with the Internet, and they are only now really coming around to the fact that they have to deal with it," Bowman told The Hollywood Reporter late Friday. "But it is something that they have tried to do repeatedly, to make this about personalities. It's not about personalities."

The WGA also has been concerned about a compensation-free "promotional window" studios had wanted penciled in to any compensation agreement on streamed content. The latest AMPTP proposal sidestepped that impasse by tying streaming compensation not to advertising streams but rather licensing fees, a company source said.

Also on Friday, the AMPTP distributed copies of a letter and "fact sheet" sent to update member companies on the status of talks and the latest management proposals, which the group has dubbed the New Economic Partnership.

"Between now and Tuesday, we hope that the discussion about our proposed New Economic Partnership will focus on the facts," the AMPTP said. "For example, the allegation that the New Economic Partnership and its groundbreaking proposals to extend and increase payments and jurisdiction for the writers in three wholly new areas of new media is somehow a 'rollback' does nothing to advance a substantive dialogue over these issues, especially given that the WGA asserted for weeks that we were unwilling to share in new media revenues (despite, for example, our ongoing payments for digital downloading)."

Nellie Andreeva contributed to this report.
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