WGA writes in talks team

Bowman atop panel of 17 scribes

"Desperate Housewives" creator Marc Cherry, "Dreamgirls" hyphenate Bill Condon and 15 others were named Tuesday to a WGA negotiating committee charged with an all-important mandate: hammering out a new film and TV contract for movie writers and primetime scribes.

The committee, chaired by TV writer John Bowman ("Saturday Night Live," "In Living Color"), is expected to hold its first talks with representatives of the Alliance of Motion Picture & Television Producers in July. The WGA's current minimum basic agreement, covering 12,000 WGA members, expires in October.

Trumpeting the appointments in a news release topped with a new "Contract 2007" logo, guild officials touted the committee lineup as underscoring the seriousness of its intentions and soberness of its approach.

"The depth and breadth of this committee should show our membership, our sister unions and the industry at large our widespread commitment to making a fair and forward-thinking deal for writers," WGA West president Patric Verrone said.

"These writers and writers like them are responsible for many of our most respected and profitable films and television shows," WGA East president Chris Albers said. "Now they are banding together to fight for a fair and comprehensive contract for all writers."

One well-placed industry insider said the committee includes an encouraging number of "working writers (who) have a lot of stake." A committee packed with less accomplished scribes could have tilted it in a less productive direction, the source said.

All sides agree the issue of writer compensation for new-media reuse will be a big point of discussion in the contract talks.

Currently, studios and networks refuse to pay for many forms of WGA-originated content when reused as Internet or mobile programming. Such emerging platforms represent mere promotional or even "experimental" forms of entertainment, they argue.

Guild leaders see things differently.

"Our position is that we reserve the right to be compensated in all media forms," said Bowman, a WGAW member since 1988 and board member since 2004. "The Internet is the distribution channel of the future (so) it's important to get it right, and this is our one shot. … We're determined to be heard on this particular issue, and we have a very strong group that's going to be both practical and tough."

A WGA Pension & Health Funds trustee, Bowman served on the WGA's 2004 negotiating committee and continues to serve on the WGAW's organizing committee.

Other WGAW members of the new negotiating committee include Neal Baer, Carlton Cuse, Stephen Gaghan, David A. Goodman, Carl Gottlieb, Susannah Grant, Carol Mendelsohn, Marc Norman, Shawn Ryan, Robin Schiff and Ed Solomon. WGAE members include Terry George, Brian Koppelman and Rafe Yglesias.

"It's an exciting group, and no one is looking to do anything more than to find a good deal for everybody," said Goodman, a showrunner on "The Family Guy." "We want something that is good for our members and fair — fair to the other side as well."

Goodman said new-media compensation is sure to be a big area of discussion for the committee when it holds its first planning session in the next couple of weeks.

"This is my first time serving on a negotiating committee," he said. "But I think I and some of the other TV writers are bringing a consciousness of how the TV business has changed (and) shows are seen and (now often) downloaded, and we are looking to protect new and old writers in the field. What is foremost on our mind is the matter of new media."

The WGA also named alternate members to the negotiating committee. Those include WGAW reps Ron Bass, Howard Michael Gould, Mark Gunn, Robert King, Aaron Mendelsohn, Steven Schwartz, Dan Wilcox and Larry Wilmore and WGAE reps John Auerbach, Walter Bernstein, David Black, Richard Dresser, Melissa Salmons and Bob Schneider.

Verrone and Albers will serve as ex-officio members of the negotiating committee, along with WGAW vp David N. Weiss, WGAE vp Tom Fontana, WGAW secretary-treasurer Elias Davis and WGAE secretary-treasurer Gail Lee.