Strike put 'normal' out to pasture

HRTS panel debates ways of doing biz, post-stoppage

So, where do we go from here?

That was the question posed Tuesday to a panel of industry leaders at the Hollywood Radio & Television Society's Newsmaker Luncheon — a little more than six weeks after the 100-day WGA strike came to an end. The answer still seems unclear.

One of the first things that moderator Jordan Levin, founding partner and CEO of Generate, wanted to know was when the industry is going to get back to "normal." That prompted Fox Broadcasting president of entertainment Kevin Reilly to respond that there's no such thing as normal and that the industry should stop clinging to one uniform idea of the way things should be run.

In fact, he said Fox doesn't need to go to its upfront presentation in May with all of its pilots finished.

He also spoke against pilot presentations, those shorter pilots favored by CBS and CW this development season, which was shortened by the writers strike.

"I don't like presentations if it means a mini-pilot," he said at the event held at the Hyatt Regency Century Plaza Hotel. "The creative minds and mold-breakers rarely find their way through with a presentation."

Levin also posed the question of who came out as the big winners after the strike, but Ken Ziffren, co-founder and partner of law firm Ziffren Brittenham, refused to answer.

"In a war, there are no victors," he said to scattered applause. "The result of this work stoppage should be to lead up into new areas where we try to cooperate and enlarge the pie," ensuring that everyone gets a bigger slice of it.

But there were losers, said Richard Weitz, partner and head of the TV packaging department at Endeavor, pointing out the financial impact of the strike.

"I don't think anybody will be able to break even or make up that money and time that was lost," he said, citing such shows as NBC's "Chuck" and ABC's "Pushing Daisies" that saw shortened first seasons because of the strike. "Those back-nine episodes that were lost won't be able to be made up in the future."

Weitz also said that the days of big-dollar development deals are pretty much done.

"The pure development deals where someone is paid $1 million to write a pilot or two are, for the most part, over," he said. "This is a buyers' marketplace. Some high-profile people will continue to get deals. They'll be harder to get, but there won't be as many blind development deals as before."

Sandra Stern, executive VP and COO of television at Lionsgate, said her company already had been addressing the economics of producing shows, long before the strike.

"We look at each show individually — some have higher and some have lower budgets," she said. "A studio like Lionsgate, which is unaffiliated (with a major conglomerate), has to operate more like a film company than a traditional television company."

When the strike ended, "The Office" executive producer Greg Daniels said, Universal Media Studios, which produces the NBC comedy, took writers from several of its shows out for a nice dinner to make amends. Since then, he said, things haven't been as contentious between the networks/studios and writers as they were during the strike.

"The executives in the scripted entertainment department are glad to see the strike over, and all I get (from my writers) is relief to be back to work," he said, adding that his writers are at work on another set of "Office" webisodes, following the 10 that became available in summer 2006 on NBC.com.

Added Reilly: "At least we know the ground rules for this digital media stuff now."
comments powered by Disqus