The confusing outlook could get especially ugly by Thursday, the date the Writers Guild of America has given as the deadline for its Script Validation Program, whereby writers must turn in drafts of their current works. Studios and networks have demanded that the guild cease and desist from enforcing that program.
Sources close to talks said that five key sticking points were on the table at the start of talks Sunday, and those had been whittled down to just two by the dinner break. Many in both camps feel that they could have made serious progress if the talks continued.
But AMPTP president Nick Counter said the talks collapsed when the companies were in caucus shortly after 9 p.m. and discovered that the WGA East website was declaring the strike had started. The AMPTP reps then asked WGA East topper Mona Mangan if that was indeed the case, and she said it was.
"We asked the WGA if they'd be willing to put a pin in the strike so we could continue negotiations, and Mona and David Young said no," Counter said. "We were having dialogue and making some progress, and then we hit a brick wall. I'm shocked and chagrined over what happened."
TV SHOWS SHUTTING DOWN AS WRITERS STRIKE CONTINUES
Sitcom and drama sets are going dark – and in many cases, much quicker than the nets and studios had anticipated.
Laffer “The New Adventures of Old Christine” could conceivably produce a seg this week – but exec producer Kari Lizer shut the show down, as star Julia Louis-Dreyfus hit the picket lines in support of the scribes. Fox’s “Back to You” was set to return from hiatus on Wednesday, but that table read was scrapped, and it now appears the show won’t return until the writers do.
Also already dark: Fox’s “Til Death” and CBS’ “Rules of Engagement.” And it doesn’t appear like much is getting done over on NBC’s “The Office” either.
Even shows still in production will likely go dark in the next week or two, as those remaining scripts are shot, with nothing left in the pipeline.
Meanwhile, latenight TV remained dark Tuesday as word leaked out that “Late Show with David Letterman” had told its support staff that it would keep cutting paychecks for two more weeks. It’s unclear if the checks will keep coming after that, or if Letterman will decide to return to work. It’s believed other latenight shows have given staff members similar notices.
The big issue dogging the nets on the primetime side is the high volume of exec producers refusing to cross the picketlines even to perform non-writing chores on scripts that have already been completed. That’s forcing shows to shutdown sooner than the webs expected, even under the strike scenario.
In the past two days, Shonda Rhimes (“Grey’s Anatomy,” “Private Practice”) and Shawn Ryan (“The Shield,” “The Unit”) have come out publicly with statements declaring they won’t help wrap up episodes in the works. It’s a change from the pre-strike conventional wisdom that such showrunners would stay on the job.
“I absolutely believed that I would edit our episodes,” Rhimes wrote in an e-mail widely circulated late Monday night. “Until a thought hit me: how can I walk a picket line and then continue to essentially work? How am I supposed to look at myself in the mirror or look at my child years from now and know that I did not have the courage of my convictions to stand up and put myself more at risk than anyone else?”
To be sure, many showrunners are still clearly offering help to their shows. Even if they’re not crossing picket lines, the fact that so many skeins remain in production indicates showrunners are working from home.
Still, the greater-than-expected showrunner solidarity is the result of a concerted effort by the WGA to shore up support among its most high-profile members. Nearly 100 showrunners attended a pre-strike powwow Saturday. And on Wednesday, plans are underway for a picketing session featuring only showrunners.
STRIKE IMPACTING FILM MARKETING
Studios and stars have lost one of their most important seats when it comes to promoting a movie: The latenight couch.
Latenight talkshows were the first casualty of the walkout, airing reruns Monday. Beyond the immediate effect on the creatives and crews of these shows, there are other wide-ranging results such as the impact on movie marketing and flow of studio advertising dollars to television.
Studios are readjusting ad buys, telling the networks they don't want to advertise while latenight talkshows are in reruns. They're also likely to pull advertising from NBC's "Saturday Night Live," which is going into reruns because of the strike.
For now, movie advertising during primetime should remain largely unaffected. That will change if it's a prolonged strike and shows go into reruns. Based on viewing patterns for this fall, the latenight crowd on the broadcast nets (led by Leno on NBC and Letterman on CBS) could expect to see somewhere between a 10%-15% falloff as they shift from originals to repeats. Of course, that gap could grow if the monologues and guests become so stale as to keep auds away altogether on a regular basis.
On Monday of this week, Leno's "Tonight Show" repeat saw a rather sharp decline from the previous week's original episode (3.1 rating/8 share in the metered markets vs. 3.9/10), as most viewers seemed aware of the strike as well as Leno's participation in picketing alongside the writers. Letterman's "Late Show" was down but by not quite as much (3.4/9 vs. 3.9/10). ABC's "Nightline" seemed to benefit, rising a tick week to week (3.3/8 vs. 3.2/8).
Overnights weren't available for Monday's latenight cable programs, but the topical programs fronted by Comedy Central's Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert should expect to see rather steep declines as they go into repeats. Both "The Daily Show" and "Colbert Report" tumbled by about 35% when comparing their most recent repeat weeks vs. their recent firstrun averages.
When it comes to plugging a film, there's no replacement for booking a star on NBC's "The Late Show with Jay Leno," CBS' "Late Show with David Letterman" and ABC's "Jimmy Kimmel Live," which all sport a national aud that's predominantly male.
"Those shows are hugely important," one marketing and publicity exec said. "They are their own beast. It's not like you can make it up with morning shows and midday shows because those are mostly watched by women. You are sort of stuck in a corner, and have to hope that the weight of everything else in your campaign will carry you through."
This week, a number of thesps have had to cancel their latenight plans.
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