WGA gives up on nonscripted effort
Guild won't move forward in reality rumble
By DAVE MCNARY
Despite its rhetoric to the contrary, the WGA is quietly pulling the plug on the notion of getting reality shows under its jurisdiction.
Move is a concession that it can't afford to keep up the fight, amid tense contract negotiations with producers, on an issue that has been a losing battle for the guild.
Officially, jurisdiction over reality remains part of the demands at the stalled contract negotiations -- which have been pushed back a day and will resume Thursday morning at WGA headquarters. And guild execs insist there remains an active effort to organize the sector. Ironically, nonscripted skeins will likely dominate primetime skeds should Hollywood scribes become engulfed in a lengthy work stoppage.
But the emerging reality about reality TV is that the WGA has decided to reverse course after making the genre a centerpiece of organizing efforts in 2005 and 2006. That push included a futile effort to get the CW's top-rated reality skein, "America's Next Top Model," under the guild umbrella by urging a dozen writers to go on strike, only to be outmaneuvered when IATSE swooped in and unionized the show.
The WGA's efforts to sign up reality shows have fallen so short that members won't face any sanction for working in that sector should a work stoppage occur. In a telling move earlier this month, the WGA forged extensive strike rules that did not include any mention of punishment for working on reality shows -- even though the rules contained sanctions for work in other areas of limited guild coverage, such as new media and feature animation.
WGA West general counsel Tony Segall told Daily Variety that the guild decided against including new areas of coverage in its strike rules.
"It's imposing a rule that would not have much of an effect," he added. "We still have an active campaign to organize reality TV, but we're heavily focused on the (contract) negotiations now."
The WGA's push in the reality sector during the past two years was perceived as an effort to weaken networks' leverage in using reality as a hedge against a strike.
And though the WGA has yet to formally take any of its 26 demands off the table, it's expected that the guild's demand for jurisdiction over reality will be one of the first it folds on if and when negotiations get moving. Jim Johnston, a partner at the Davis & Gilbert entertainment, media and publishing group, said such a step would not be surprising.
"The WGA has a pretty steep hill to climb when it comes to reality," he added. "The results of their campaign on 'America's Next Top Model' were pretty devastating."
Those difficulties emerged last year, when the WGA held dozens of rallies to support a dozen writers who walked off "America's Next Top Model" over producers' refusal to grant jurisdiction to the WGA. "Top Model" showrunner Ken Mok created a new system utilizing editors covered by the Intl. Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees and eliminated the writing slots.
IATSE wound up repping 60 employees on the show, with president Tom Short tweaking the WGA's organizing efforts as being "mishandled due to zero experience at organizing in the entertainment industry" -- a slap at WGA West exec director David Young, whose background is in organizing the construction and garment industries.
Young responded by accusing Short of being a shill for producers by having his union perform struck work.
The softening of the WGA's position on reality appears to be the only area in which the guild is relenting.
Johnston noted the strident tone of public posturing by both sides, adding that he's dubious that negotiations between the guild and the Alliance of Motion Picture & Television Producers will move forward appreciably until a day or two before the Oct. 31 contract expiration.
"The guild's staked out a pretty tough position," he added. "It's going to be hard for them to back off from that."
The WGA West is also planning to issue a call for a writers boycott against FremantleMedia. It had scheduled a rally for this morning outside Freemantle's headquarters in Burbank but then called it off due to the extensive fires in the region.
It's the third rally the WGA's held against FremantleMedia over the past five weeks since attacking the producer over its refusal to give the guild coverage of the gameshow "Temptation." Four writers left the show Aug. 28 over lack of WGA coverage.
The guild -- which claims to cover about half of the gameshow sector -- noted that FremantleMedia also produces "American Idol," "The Price Is Right," "Family Feud," and "The Next Great American Band."