HOLLYWOOD PREPARING FOR POSSIBLE STRIKE
The harsh rhetoric surrounding the WGA negotiations plus the guild's recent move to seek strike authorization have convinced execs that the threat of a Nov. 1 strike may be very real. A possible lockout is also being discussed.
"We are trying to get as much stuff as possible shoved through," said one studio VP. "It's as hot as I've ever seen it. And whether or not they strike on Nov. 1, we have to act as if they will."
On the feature side, studios are no longer taking writing pitches and are pretty much limiting themselves to making deals on fully developed packages. Warner Bros. and Universal, for example, have put out the word to agents: Don't bring in any spec scripts until the situation resolves itself.
"A strike on Nov. 1 is a real option," WGA West prexy Patric Verrone told Daily Variety on Monday. "What I'm hearing from our screenwriters and showrunners is that they're being asked to schedule additional table reads, prepare additional scripts and squeeze in more shows, which may be physically impossible in that amount of time."
On the TV side, the nets are scrambling to figure out how they'll fill primetime with no new scripted shows and trying to get pilot scripts completed as quickly as possible. There's also been a rash of series commitments in recent weeks, with nets handing out an unusually large number of six- and 13-episode orders.
Agents admit that the pace of feature dealmaking has stayed hectic in recent weeks -- but only for short-term projects. "Making any deals in long-term feature development has become really tough," one tenpercenter groused.
Producers and execs say available writing jobs have been drying up in recent days. "Unless you're a triple-A high-end rewriter, you're not getting an assignment now," one prominent producer said.
One agent noted that feature animation writing jobs may become a hot area for scribes in coming months since that arena's not covered by the WGA.
"I am looking more toward open director assignments rather than writing assignments," a manager noted, pointing out that the DGA is unlikely to go on strike and will probably make a deal by the end of year.
The possibility that a writers strike could start in just a few weeks, with the current contract expiring Oct. 31, had not been prominent on the town's radar until recently. The prevailing sentiment had been that the WGA would wait for several months -- perhaps until summer, when both the SAG and DGA contracts expire -- before staging a work stoppage.
The WGA and the Alliance of Motion Picture & Television Producers return today to the bargaining table for a seventh day of negotiations in a process that has so far yielded only acrimony and finger-pointing. Verrone said that the guild's stressing the possibility of a Nov. 1 strike to get the companies to come off their proposal to revamp residuals.
"We're hoping that possibility will get companies to negotiate seriously," he added.
But AMPTP president Nick Counter told Daily Variety that the prospect of an early strike has always been part of the planning for studios and nets.
"The companies all have contingencies and will be ready in the event a strike occurs," Counter added.
One industry insider believes writers will wait to see if any progress is being made before deciding to walk out.
"If there's absolutely no progress being made, they'll go out," the insider said. "If there is some movement, they might give it a few more weeks."
Endeavor partner Rick Rosen said he remains hopeful that a strike can be averted altogether.
"I'd hate to see this turn into a self-fulfilling prophecy, like the Iraq war," Rosen said. "I'd like to see people trying to engage in some meaningful and constructive dialogue rather than making pronouncements."
TV types are split as to when a strike would hurt the most, but almost all are now convinced one is coming -- and sooner rather than later. Many believe a November walkout could be particularly crippling since it could affect both the current TV season and the next one.
By Nov. 1, nets will have enough episodes of current shows in the can to get them through mid-January. But the February sweeps would be decimated, and new shows would halt production well before they'd filled their initial 13 episode orders.
As a result, an early strike could spell doom for some newer shows struggling in the ratings.
"If Fox has to shut down a show like 'K-Ville' in the middle of filming the seventh episode, they might just decide it makes more sense to simply cancel it," one agent said.
That's because keeping the "K-Ville" sets in place and its cast together would be costly. If the show were a hit, keeping the skein in a holding pattern would make sense, but given its weak early numbers, Fox might simply decide it makes sense to cut and run.
That decision would have a cost, too. TV shows generally need to produce 13 episodes to earn international coin. If shows such as "K-Ville" -- or CBS' ratings-challenged "Cane" or NBC's "Bionic Woman" -- wrap before they get to 13 segs, they'll likely end up a total loss for both the network and the studio that produces the show.
A writers' walkout before Thanksgiving could also cripple pilot season if scribes stay out for several months. While nets have purchased the bulk of their pilot scripts by now, they've seen only a few completed drafts. Most pilot scripts don't come in until late November or early December. An early strike would put pilot season on hold.
There are some observers, however, who think a January strike might make more strategic sense. The TV season would still be hurt, with original episodes of shows running out by late February. Pilot season would still be affected, since nets might be reluctant to lense $4 million pilot segs without scribes available to do rewrites -- especially for comedies.
GOOGLE TOPS $600 MILLION MARK; UP NEXT $700
Shares of Google on Monday passed the $600 mark for the first time ever, and Wall Street observers said $700 could well be the next milestone.
The gain for the seemingly unstoppable Internet bellwether came as The Hollywood Reporter Showbiz 50 stock index, which includes Google, hit a new high.
While Columbus Day meant that some on Wall Street were out of their offices and away from their trading desks, the index of key Showbiz stocks climbed 0.81%, or 10.63, to $1,317.88 after going as high as $1,318.20 intraday. It had just set a previous high for the year of $1,307.25 on Friday.
Google has seen its market value jump about 50% above its low for the past year.
Street folks have debated this year whether the stock could reach $600 without entering bubble territory, with many seeming not concerned at all, which has led as of late to analysts raising their Google price targets well beyond that mark.
Google shares on Monday went as high as $610.26 before closing at $609.62, a 2.6% gain for the day. That left the stock up 32.4% year-to-date and about 50% above its 52-week low of $409.75.
Bear Stearns analyst Robert Peck on Friday reiterated his "outperform" rating on Google shares and set a $700 price target, predicting the firm should hit it by year-end 2008.
He cited growth opportunities in online search, potential revenue contribution from the company's online video juggernaut YouTube and Google's efforts in radio and print advertising.
"Google remains one of the best operating companies within our coverage universe, with (operating cash flow) and earnings per share growth estimated at 21% and 20%, respectively, over the next three to five years," Peck wrote in a report. He added that Google has been trading in-line with its Web peers, "though Google's longer-term prospects are more favorable than several stocks."
NBC FOOTBALL SCORES BIG ON SUNDAY
The marquee National Football League matchup between the Chicago Bears and Green Bay Packers carried NBC to victory on the first Sunday in October, a night that also included weak premiere numbers for CW family drama "Life Is Wild."
Based on affiliate-based prelim Nielsens for Sunday, the Bears' 27-20 victory over their rivals is projected to average a 7.7 rating/19 share in adults 18-49 and 18.4 million viewers overall, making it the top program of the night.
ABC's "Desperate Housewives" (6.6/16 in 18-49, 17.4 million viewers overall) was the top entertainment series of the evening despite a roughly 12% falloff from its season premiere of the previous week. Following the season opener of "America's Funniest Home Videos" at 7 (2.6/8 in 18-49, 8.5 million viewers overall), "Extreme Makeover: Home Edition" ran a solid second at 8 o'clock (4.1/10 in 18-49, 11.7 million viewers overall), while the net's "Brothers & Sisters" at 10 o'clock (4.5/12 in 18-49, 12.2 million viewers overall) also was the demo runner-up to football in its slot.
At CBS, following an NFL overrun and postgame show, a 90-minute edition of "60 Minutes" averaged a 2.1/6 in 18-49 and 10.8 million viewers overall), leading into "Cold Case" (2.9/7 in 18-49, 12.8 million viewers overall) and "Shark" (2.5/6 in 18-49, 11.2 million viewers overall).
Fox was also down week to week and led as usual by "Family Guy" (4.0/9 in 18-49, 8.4 million viewers overall) and "The Simpsons" (3.6/10 in 18-49, 7.7 million viewers overall).
CW opened new drama "Life Is Wild" to a mere 0.4/1 in 18-49 and 1.6 million viewers overall, on par in demos with, and roughly double the overall audience of, its woeful "Online Nation" lead-in (0.3/1 in 18-49, 0.8 million viewers overall).
Preliminary 18-49 averages for the night: NBC (7:30-11 p.m.) 6.0/16; ABC, 4.4/12; Fox, 2.9/8; CBS, 2.6/7; Univision, 0.8/2; CW, 0.4/1.
In total viewers: NBC (7:30-11 p.m.), 14.7 million; ABC, 12.4 million; CBS, 11.5 million; Fox, 6.3 million; Univision, 1.9 million; CW, 1.3 million.