the pulse

Somewhere above the clouds, Rodney Dangerfield is smiling

This isn't a dream, right? The writers strike really is over? I'm having some trouble believing it. I mean, if it's really true, then how come I see debt people?

So much of what went down in this walkout flew in the face of conventional wisdom. Assumption No. 1: The writers haven't the organizational skills or cooperation to demonstrate genuine solidarity. (Wrong!) Assumption No. 2: Studio chieftains like Fox's Peter Chernin and Disney's Bob Iger are too aloof and tightfisted to insert themselves into the settlement equation. (Wrong!) Assumption No. 3: Writers lack the respect to be taken seriously. (Wrong again!)

The thing was never going to go on forever, though a quarter of a year felt plenty long, thanks. Maybe it was the producers' strategy all along to steer clear of any good-faith bargaining, yawn and finger-point while the industry reeled and then, when they were good and ready, make enough concessions to forge a settlement.

The fact this came together a couple of weeks before the Academy Awards (coming Feb. 24) is as surprising as a sunrise. It's amazing what can happen when a couple of hundred million bucks and the sanctity of Hollywood's most prestigious annual showcase are put at risk.

That Oscar is one wily dude. He's small, he's stiff, he's mute and he could stand to lose a few, but boy can he deliver in the clutch. You have to believe he had at least a hand in brokering peace in the midst of intense warfare. His next stop ought to be the Middle East.

Assessing winners and losers in the wake of a labor dispute that unfolded in 3-D (divisive, disruptive and devastating) isn't at all simple. The showbiz rank and file put out onto the street by the strike gained little besides hypertension and cash flow problems. While the writers gained much — respect and a stake in the future, for starters — they also collectively lost millions they will never recoup.

It's also unclear if the studios emerge from this bloody skirmish with any greater acknowledgment of the importance that the Writers Guild scribes represent in the creative process. You'd think it were a no-brainer: no script, no project. But somehow, that doesn't appear to be the case, and in fact never has been.

What had to get the studios' attention was the unrelenting determination of the WGA to claw and refuse to back down in the face of an inflexible opponent that held pretty much all of the cards. It was the guild's resoluteness and insistence on breaking through on the Internet compensation issue, rather than its ability to close down the town, that in the end earned the producers' grudging esteem.

Yet it need not have ever come to this. If it's undeniable that the writers couldn't have come close to the deal they received without striking, it only was necessary because the studios exercised, in the view of the guild, a strategy of low-balling and residual rollbacks that their trade org, the AMPTP, contemptuously and insultingly tried to pass off as genuine contractual discussion. In the real world, this is called refusing to bargain. Repeatedly uttering the word "no" is not negotiation (a criticism also leveled against the guild).

Now that everyone can kiss and make up, the industry is bracing for the June 30 expiration of the Screen Actors Guild's three-year contract. Before you say it couldn't possibly happen all over again, consider this: Oscar likes to take the summer off. Be very afraid.
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