the pulse

When it comes to strike, silence is far from golden

For those of you without ready access to a calendar, it is now Feb. 1, or precisely three months since the Writers Guild of America's last three-year pact with the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers officially expired. Call me a pessimist, but as you read these words, I'm assuming no new agreement has been hammered out. It's tough sledding when you're dependent on Lew Wasserman's ghost to broker peace.

I'm not sure what the statute of limitations is on "cautious optimism" — that fuzzy commodity under which Hollywood has been operating since the Directors Guild came to terms with producers a couple of weeks back — but I have to believe the sound of that ticking clock is beginning to grow ominous.

We keep hearing of "informal talks" between reps for the writers and studios in this protracted strike. But just what does this mean? "Mind if we take .024% of that Internet thing we keep hearing about — or should I just go screw myself? Your call." "Hey, I've got an idea: How about we give each of your guys an extra 35 bucks a year and a couple of 2-for-1 coupons to Olive Garden and we'll consider things square?"

This may come as something of a shock, but I'm no labor expert. That said, I have a difficult time understanding why it's proving so problematic to lure producers' reps into a real meeting across an actual table. There are executives I know who seem to be in five or six of them every day, unless that's just what their assistants are programmed to tell me when I call.

Trust me, this meeting thing isn't so complex to unravel. You get in the car. You drive. You get out. You walk into the building. You take a seat. You start talking. People do this virtually every day, I'm told. And a lack of directional sense is no longer an excuse, thanks to GPS.

I mean, if ever the sides figured to have motivation to make a deal happen, it's right now. The Oscars are scheduled for three weeks from Sunday, and they represent a couple of hundred million dollars in potential lost or wasted revenue. Yes, producer Gil Cates insists the Academy Awards will go on even if the WGA is out in force at the Kodak Theatre and the nominees refuse to cross the picket line, but wouldn't that be sort of like sitting down at a restaurant that featured only appetizers?

Whatever the guild is doing to convince the other side to return to bargaining mode, it isn't working. While I have great respect for the WGA's determination, solidarity and sacrifice, I have less so for its tactical approach. I won't presume to have the key that can unlock this dilemma, nor is it my role as a journalist to help settle it. We media types are mere informational operatives, impartial observers, conduits without partisanship. At least, that's the goal.

But please indulge this one idea, if you would. It's a pretty simple thing, really. Enough with the picketing at empty production facilities. It's time to switch strategies.

If the studios won't come to a meeting, how about bringing the meeting to them? Set up boardroom tables right there on the sidewalk in front of the offices where AMPTP chief negotiator Nick Counter and his associates hang.

WGA president Patric Verrone and his team can explain to the news cameras that they're primed to rock and roll, and if the studio folks are absent, it should become clear which is the obstinate party in this dispute.

Anyway, there you go, WGA. Your opportunity to take the offensive and shift the PR wind. An increasingly fretful industry hopes you're up to the task.
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