This contest was tough to score
Reputations enhanced, hurtWGA leaders seemed inclined to declare victory and move on, but figuring winners and losers in the aftermath of the writers' tentative contract deal is a complex calculation.
Writers themselves fall into both categories.
Having missed paychecks for more than three months means many scribes will see their pay raises and residual gains as mere means of playing catch-up in their household income. But those who found themselves between projects when the strike began Nov. 5 are sitting pretty going forward, as first-time residual gains in new media will put them on a better track to compensate for any loss of income caused by diminishing revenue from TV reruns and DVD.
Similarly, though management seems to have avoided giving away the store, the studios clearly have taken a hit. Many strike-halted TV shows were money losers anyway, but the cancellation of pilot production is a huge headache for studio producers and broadcast networks.
Elsewhere, the scores of production crews and others put out of work by the strike will be hard-pressed to find a silver lining in the scribes' winning contract gains. And many nonentertainment businesses have had their bottom lines tugged a bit by the protracted labor strife.
As for individual personalities in the WGA negotiations, many notched points in both the win and loss columns, and history will fill in their ultimate scorecards. Yet short-term reputations clearly have been either burnished or tarnished by the torturous talks, fairly or otherwise.
WGA West president Patric Verrone took it on the chin when he ultimately had to back off demands for first-time jurisdiction over reality TV and animation, pet issues he refused to take off the table on Dec. 7, when contract talks broke down for a second time. Citing the refusal, the Alliance of Motion Picture & Television Producers instead turned its attention to launching early negotiations on the DGA's next contract.
Verrone's counterpart in running the guild, WGAW exec director David Young, was the chief architect of the guild's questionable strategy of negotiating brinkmanship. So though some say the WGA would never have won its contract gains without a strike, others will ask how anyone can know that since guild negotiators stayed away from the bargaining table for long stretches of time between the start of talks July 16 and the expiration of the guild's last contract Oct. 31.
More positively, WGA negotiating committee chair John Bowman comes away from the difficult negotiations with a reputation as the guy who ultimately hammered out a final deal with studio bosses. Previously, Bowman had deferred in large part to Young — the guild's chief negotiator for most of the talks — and Verrone, who effectively stepped aside in the final weeks of talks.
And WGA East president Michael Winship, though a lesser player in the talks, is a first-term head of the smaller WGAE who seems quickly to have won the confidence and backing of his constituency.
On the management side, AMPTP president Nick Counter presided over perhaps the most controversial set of contract talks in his decades-long career — possibly his final WGA negotiations before retirement. But in the end, it was a couple of media moguls who hammered out final terms of the WGA deal and a prior DGA agreement, thus winning points in the arena of public perception.
News Corp. COO Peter Chernin and Disney CEO Robert Iger have been praised for taking direct charge of negotiations with the WGA and DGA to forge all-important deal points on new-media residuals. CBS topper Leslie Moonves also was clearly a moderating influence behind the scenes.
Yet studio bosses also must accept collective responsibility for birthing the two-headed monster of an initial negotiating proposal put forth by the AMPTP — itself something of a dysfunctional marriage of convenience among the major studios. When the WGA produced its usual laundry list of negotiating demands before the talks started, the AMPTP responded with a widely disparaged two-pronged proposal to postpone new-media discussions for three years and at the same time negotiate first-ever provisions in residual formulas to allow studios to delay paying residuals until productions recouped certain basic costs.
Neither of the proposals got any traction in the talks, with many blaming the harsh management posture for the guild's retreating from substantive talks for much of the period leading up to its contract expiration. Indeed, some suggest the writers couldn't have gotten a fair deal without a strike.
"The guild would not have achieved their deal without having gone out on strike, and the directors got their terms in part because the writers went out on strike," said Jonathan Handel, a TroyGould attorney and former WGAW associate counsel. "I don't think they would have gotten as strong a set of residuals as they did, and I think new media would have been more circumscribed."
But even some on the labor side still question the timing of the WGA strike, five days after expiration of its last contract.
"I believe they made a mistake striking now," said John McLean, executive director at the WGAW from 1999-2006. "They would have been better off waiting and striking with SAG in the summer."
One thing everybody seemed to agree on Monday — following the weekend's dramatic news of a tentative deal — is that scribes voting in Los Angeles and New York today will overwhelmingly approve ending the writers strike. There also was broad optimism that voting in the ensuing week will result in WGA members' accepting their three-year tentative agreement.