thr esq.

A steady hand guided this strike to settlement

Lawyers get blamed for a lot of what's wrong with Hollywood: hyper-litigiousness; unnecessarily protracted deal negotiations; studios too afraid to take real risks. Yet it shouldn't go unnoticed that when labor unrest brought the industry to a standstill for 100 days, two of the town's top talent attorneys played productive roles in making things right.

You never saw Alan Wertheimer in post-strike celebrations alongside WGA brass and execs like News Corp.'s Peter Chernin and the Walt Disney Co.'s Robert Iger. But Wertheimer's steady hand — like that of Ken Ziffren, who stepped in to help the DGA close its speedy deal — helped the negotiators get past the personal squabbles.

"Alan is a very careful negotiator," says Tony Segall, the WGA's longtime general counsel, who, with guild brass, decided to bring Wertheimer aboard in the strike's final days as talks got serious. "Also, he was a familiar face for the executives. He's been around awhile and those relationships were key in the final stretch."

Wertheimer, an avid softball player, honed those relationships playing hardball for more than 25 years for A-list writers like Eric Roth, Callie Khourie and Frank Darabont. Recently, Wertheimer and his firm, Jackoway Tyerman Wertheimer Austin Mandelbaum Morris and Klein, handled the all-night negotiation that led to producer-director J.J. Abrams' massive deals with Paramount (for films) and Warner Bros. Television (for TV), and he shepherded the Writers Co-op deal at Warner Bros., giving gross points to a team of scribes led by John Wells.

Those deals, and Wertheimer's representation of several WGA board members (including Ron Bass, a former lawyer who practiced at Wertheimer's firm 20 years ago before becoming a client), made him a natural fit for a role similar to Ziffren's in the 1988 strike: deal closer. The small handful of senior industry attorneys who command gravitas in the thorniest negotiations are the sober statesmen of the business, the detached insiders who, even though they advocate fiercely for clients, have dealt fairly with CEOs like Chernin and Iger on enough deals to have earned their respect.

Plus, when the call came from the WGA, Wertheimer had already sacrificed much of his holiday season negotiating an interim agreement for client David Letterman's company Worldwide Pants. He was eager to sit down with both sides, get beyond the personalities involved and help get a deal done before the strike wiped out the TV season and the Oscars.

"Everyone in the room wanted to make a deal, but we needed to put the past behind us and focus on solutions that the membership would ultimately approve," Wertheimer says.

Those compromises took root at two key meetings. The first, a casual, seven-person sit-down lunch held at Wertheimer's Brentwood house after his wife agreed to move her book club, produced a deal for WGA jurisdiction over Internet shows. At a second powwow at the Luxe hotel, the parties agreed for the first time on a royalty structure for digital delivery, and Wertheimer advised his clients to take the deal while it was still on the table.

Of course, Wertheimer credits the leadership on both sides for reaching a deal. The leaders should credit Wertheimer as well.