WGA to writers: Avoid 'Osbournes'

Writing for variety show could result in punishment

WGA leaders warned members Wednesday that working on the Osbourne clan's new comedy-variety show on Fox could put their membership with the guild on shaky ground.

At issue with the WGA is the show's producers, FremantleMedia North America, who according to the union offered a "sub-standard contract" asking that writers be treated as if they were working on "half-scripted" shows, which would greatly reduce their writing fees.

The writing on the show, which has a working title "The Osbournes: Loud and Dangerous," would traditionally be covered under the guild's basic agreement, used in the past for such shows as "The Carol Burnett Show" and "Laugh-In," according to WGA West president Patric Verrone and WGA East president Michael Winship. But Fremantle, according to the WGA, wanted to treat other portions of the show as "reality content," which would not be covered. Fremantle indicated it would be responsible for writing that part of the show. The WGA refused.

This isn't the first Fremantle show the WGA has had issues with.

While some shows produced by Fremantle have been covered by the guild contract, there are many others, including "American Idol" and "The Price Is Right," that are not covered by the WGA contract. Over the summer, the WGA went on a bus tour, dubbed the American Idol Truth Tour, which followed the show's auditions all over the U.S. and Puerto Rico, talking with the public about what they claim are substandard working conditions for writers and other behind-the-scenes employees.

"Now it is clear that Fremantle's intention is to bring their low-cost, nonunion business model into traditional genres -- first games shows, then comedy-variety," the letter states. "Soon, no WGA-covered writing will be safe from their aggressive undermining of our contract. We cannot allow this encroachment to continue."

Fremantle's David Shall, general counsel and executive vp of business operations, accused the WGA of continuing a campaign of "defamation and negative propaganda" against the company. The WGA, Shall said, was contacted in good faith by Fremantle with the hopes of hiring WGA writers for the "nontraditional" Osbourne show, which mixes variety with reality TV.

"Unfortunately, after only a few phone conversations with our representatives, the guild chose to end discussion, ordered its membership to not write for the show and implemented their usual mendacious strategy of feeding misleading and erroneous information to the press," Shall wrote. "We are disappointed that our effort to meet the guild halfway has been summarily rejected and, as such, we don't believe the guild's membership has been served."

The WGA denied they broke off talks, saying Fremantle sent an e-mail that ended discussions.

To retaliate against Fremantle, the WGA is ordering its members to not write for the variety show, and those who do will be in violation of the WGA's working rules and could face a fine.

The clash with Fremantle is the latest the WGA has had with TV producers. Last week and over the weekend, WGA members picketed Tyler Perry and the grand opening of his new studio in Atlanta. The WGA claims four WGA writers for Perry's "Meet the Browns" and "House of Payne" were fired when they tried to get a union contract.

Perry's attorney, Matt Johnson, said in a statement last week that the WGA has misrepresented the facts and that both sides started negotiations for "Browns" five months ago. The fired writers were let go because of the quality of their work, Johnson said, and of the three remaining writers, two stayed.

All that is keeping the WGA from inking a contract with Perry is the issue of free TV residuals, but all other issues, including benefits, minimums, script fees and the like, have been resolved, Johnson said.

The WGA said Perry's camp was engaged in regressive bargaining, turning its back on an agreement that defined what is covered for the writers in the deal.

But with no deal, the WGA sent out an action alert to agents telling of the Fremantle issue and reminding them that they cannot send clients to write for Perry's shows. An unfair labor practice claim has been filed against Perry by the WGA.
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