The red carpet ruckus

Organizers scramble as WGA plays hardball

Hollywood woke up Tuesday to one weird awards season.

The day after the WGA indicated it would not grant a writers waiver to the Academy Awards and Golden Globes, the effects began to ripple across town.

The Hollywood Foreign Press Assn. and Dick Clark Prods., which co-own the Globes, on Tuesday sought to prevent picketing at the show by trying to cut a signatory agreement similar to the one being discussed between the WGA and Worldwide Pants to bring back "Late Show With David Letterman" and "The Late Late Show With Craig Ferguson."

Talent, meanwhile, continued to wait for further office guidance from SAG — or unofficial indications from A-listers stepping forward with statements — before committing to shows that have received the thumbs down from the writers guild.

The Academy Awards is the more significant show from a financial and prestige standpoint, but the focus was on the Jan. 13 Globes because it comes before the Feb. 24 Oscar ceremony.

Many have booked tables and made plans to go to the NBC-televised Globes show in the hope of a resolution — Dick Clark Prods. was said to be on pace for the typical number of reservations — but were ready to call off the evening if the WGA didn't grant its blessing.

"You treat this as if you're planning a vacation while your mother-in-law is ill," Hollywood publicist Stan Rosenfield said. "You book the flight and the hotel, and then if she's still not feeling well, you make a call and don't get on the plane. But you have to prepare for everything."

Rosenfield, who reps a host of A-list talent including Globes nominee George Clooney, said that many actors would not go if a picket line was in place. The topic is so sensitive that a number of publicists — including Alan Nierob, who reps Mel Gibson and Steve Martin — wouldn't even comment about why their clients weren't commenting.

SAG president Alan Rosenberg declined to offer a timetable for any comment on participation, saying in a statement only that the group "is in the process of reaching out to our elected leadership and to our members who have been nominated for Golden Globe Awards. We will advise them of our position once we have completed that outreach."

Last week, talent mostly had come down against going under such conditions; Ernest Borgnine was among the few who sounded an enthusiastic note about attending, with most others much more circumspect. "No one wants to be the first out there," personal publicist Bebe Lerner said.

Longtime Steven Spielberg rep Marvin Levy said he was not aware whether Spielberg had made a decision about attending. Spielberg's DreamWorks is nominated for a host of Globes, most notably for "Sweeney Todd."

The stars' attendance largely hinges on the presence of a picket line, and such a line is not necessarily a given even with the WGA's denial of a waiver, considering the length of time before the shows.

To what degree the WGA's position is a firm stance or one move that is part of a larger endgame is an open question to many execs.

"The way the WGA has played this is very smart," one Hollywood insider said. "If they started by granting a wavier, then they'd have no leverage to ask Dick Clark or the HFPA to support the writers. But by starting this way, they have a lot of leverage."

The guild could, for example, quietly ask Dick Clark Prods. and the HFPA to encourage talent to speak out in support of the writers, possibly even by wearing ribbons or otherwise making statements.

That could turn the Globes into a de facto picket line, a move that would complicate the situation for NBC. The only way for the network to keep ratings up would be to bring talent to the Beverly Hilton, but the only way talent could enter the room would be if they criticize networks like NBC.

The public relations dimension of a scaled-back Globes was one of many elements taking shape Tuesday.

The Alliance of Motion Picture & Television Producers posted a statement on its Web site that said "in the category of Worst Supporting Union, the nominee is the WGA," saying that with the denial of the waiver, the writers guild was damaging "the creative artists who deserve to be honored for their work over the last year."

But the WGA is gambling that if the show comes off to a half-empty room or a room devoid of top talent, the public would mainly blame networks and studios.

At least one group is likely to be in the room. AFTRA members were informed Tuesday that the no-strike provision in its contract meant they had to turn up for work at the Globes that day if they had previously committed to working the event.

Studios are expected to turn up the pressure on stars to attend, especially those looking to use the Globes as a boxoffice boost to movies still in theaters or an Oscar launchpad.

But the pressure, and consequences, could be just as intense from the other side. Powers Boothe, one of the few actors to cross the picket line to attend the Emmys during the 1980 SAG strike, might have suffered the effects of his attendance at the event, according to Rosenfield, who repped him.

"Obviously he wasn't blacklisted," Rosenfield said. "But you don't know whether he lost parts because of it. It's so easy for a director or producer to pass on him and say it was for other reasons."
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