Not since the Helen Kushnick debacle 15 years ago when his manager crashed and burned as The Tonight Show‘s exec producer has Jay Leno taken such a terrible PR wallop as he did today. Today’s Drudge headline, misleadingly, says “Leno fires staff” when what happened is that about 120 of the show’s non-writing staffers today were laid off by NBC due to Leno’s refusal along with the rest of the Top 5 late night hosts to cross WGA picket lines (since they’re all guild members and supporting the writers). And everyone knows Jay was treated horribly by NBC which ordered him to leave in 2009 to make way for Conan – the result of yet another shake-up orchestrated by Jeff Zucker in a brutal way. Problem is, Leno looks like a shit for lotsa other reasons.
The worst is that news reports trumpeted that, just a couple of days after the WGA strike began November 5th, he assured staffers they didn’t have to worry because their paychecks would be safe. So I was told many of the laid-off employees left NBC’s Burbank offices this morning in a sea of tears and expressing a sense of betrayal and wondering aloud “Where’s Jay?” (Along with some vocal muttering about the big bucks he spends on his famous car collection…) True, Jay’s Big Dog Productions only co-produces The Tonight Show whereas David Letterman’s Worldwide Pants owns The Late Show and The Late Late Show and is paying production staff. But today Conan O’Brien, whose company … Read More »
CAST: Amy Ryan, Patricia Clarkson
CREATIVE TEAM: George Hickenlooper, Alan Sereboff, Kamala Lopez, Jill Kushner
MUSIC: Anthony Marinelli
TECHNICAL TEAM: Joel Marshall, Justin Shumaker, Clint Bennett
This is the 16th of the Writers Guild Of America member-conceived Internet videos for Project “Speechless” featuring A-list Screen Actors Guild talent. For the first time in the TV and movie industry, high-profile SAG actors are together taking their talents directly and exclusively to the Internet, the very medium which is at the center of the current WGA labor strike against the Alliance Of Motion Picture & Television Producers. The project, conceived by director/writer George Hickenlooper and writer Alan Sereboff, made its exclusive weekend debut here on my Deadline Hollywood Daily with 11 videos. The “Speechless” campaign now debuts on its new site, SpeechlessWithoutWriters.com, which will be adding new videos every day in both high-res and low-res versions.
This is guaranteed to make Hollywood hate Ben even more without Silverman even shooting off his mouth in the press yet again. How nice for him that Shine, the UK indie owned and run by Elisabeth Murdoch, will snag his production company for something like $200 million. Ironic that a Murdoch winds up solving NBC’s conflict of interest problem, eh? (See my previous, Don’t Sweep This Under The Rug, NBC.)
By the way, unlike Rupert’s idiot sons in the media biz Lachlan and James, Rupert Murdoch’s second oldest kid, Elisabeth, is one smart cookie (but she’s only third in the line of succession). She kept telling Fox executives that Simon Fuller’s 2001 British monster hit Pop Idol would do just as well in America. But Sandy Grushow and Gail Berman shrugged her off. Finally, it took Elisabeth’s nagging Daddy, and a direct order from Rupert himself, to get American Idol launched. Only after it scored a huge audience did the Fox execs claim they made sure the UK import was “properly Americanized” so as to take credit.
THURSDAY PM UPDATE: I’m told WGA negotiators are still waiting for the other “half” of the AMPTP’s Day #4 new proposals (the half that presumably contains the missing terms on ESTs, electronic sell-throughs?) which agent Bryan Lourd said should be in their hands by Tuesday if not before. Then the writers will make a counter-offer to producers on Tuesday. Here’s the WGA West and East email to members critical of today’s New Media offers by the AMPTP on streaming, content made for new media, and programming delivered over digital broadcast channels:
To Our Fellow Members,
After four days of bargaining with the AMPTP, we are writing to let you know that, though we are still at the table, the press blackout has been lifted.
Our inability to communicate with our members has left a vacuum of information that has been filled with rumors, both well intentioned and deceptive.
Among the rumors was the assertion that the AMPTP had a groundbreaking proposal that would make this negotiation a “done deal.” In fact, for the first three days of this week, the companies presented in essence their November 4 package with not an iota of movement on any of the issues that matter to writers.
Thursday morning, the first new proposal was finally presented to us. It dealt only with streaming and made-for-Internet jurisdiction, and it amounts to a massive rollback.
For streaming television episodes, the companies proposed a residual structure of a single fixed payment of less than $250 for a year’s reuse of an
(Keep refreshing for the latest…) I was told last night by a top Hollywood CEO that the moguls had decided to allow AMPTP to put on the negotiating table a sweetened deal at Talks Day #4 today. “The producers are trying to put something on the table tomorrow [Thursday] that will jaw this loose. It will include streaming and EST [electronic sell-through] and all the rest,” the source said specifically.
The problem is I can’t confirm yet that the AMPTP has indeed bettered its offer today. (For a full report on the talks so far see my Day #3, Day#2, and Day #1.) But this is the sweetened proposal everyone has been talking about since before this new round of talks resumed. The really key issue is a better formula for ESTs, something that back on Sunday November 4th, the WGA negotiators had been led to believe was coming during that session so they dropped their DVD residual demands. Only to put them back on the table when the ESTs proposal never happened.
Until now, “the producers have not moved one inch on ESTs. It’s never been addressed,” the mogul I talked to confirmed last night.
On the TV issue of streaming, I’m told that the moguls’ initial 9-month waiting period will be shrunk to 6 weeks. True, that’s not the 3 days that the WGA is seeking, but it smacks of a compromise. (At least it’s not entirely the “when we stop making money we’ll … Read More »
I just learned that Conan O’Brien has made arrangements to pay his staff who will be laid off by NBC as of Friday. About 80 production people — like talent bookers, producers, production assistants — will be taken care of by the Late Night host who is supposed to move to The Tonight Show in 2009. Sources tell me this is on a week-to-week basis for the moment until or if Conan, who’s a WGA member and got his start as a comedy writer, goes back to work. Obviously, NBC is dying for him to return to the air because its late night ratings for the repeats have tanked. None of the late night shows have been in production during the entire November sweeps and the networks have to give sponsors free spots or “give backs” at a cost of millions.
I’ll say this: it’s a great PR move by O’Brien as well as an incredibly nice thing to do. After all, he’s the least paid of the Big Three (including Letterman and Leno), and unlike Dave’s Worldwide Pants, which is generously paying its employees through at least the end of the year, Conan’s company Conaco doesn’t own Late Night. NBC does.
And while I’m on the topic of NBC’s late night hosts, I’m told that Carson Daly was probably going to lose his show if he didn’t return to work. Oh, like that would have been a great loss to humanity, much less television. … Read More »
There’s little more to say about Wednesday’s talks other than that, unfortunately. “This is not heading in the right direction,” a mogul quoted his labor exec as saying to him yesterday. Another source told me, “It’s stalemated. Nothing’s getting achieved.”
I’m not sure people are aware that CAA partner Bryan Lourd all week has been at the hotel where the talks are being held. He’s working both sides in a form of “footstep diplomacy” (as opposed to Henry Kissinger’s old “shuttle diplomacy”). An insider told me, “He keeps asking what everybody needs. This is what Lew Wasserman used to do during these things. Wasserman would say, ‘I want to know what you each need. I don’t want to know what you want. Go in the other room and tell me what you need.’ ”
As I’ve reported previously, Lourd was designated as the Hollywood agencies’ point person to assist these resumed negotiations, which I should stress do not have a stop date on them at the moment and will probably continue well past Thursday. Said an insider: “There’s no arbitrary end to this. Everyone only leaves if Bryan gives up and goes home.” (And shame on journalist Alex Ben Block for writing a piece on Lourd containing nothing new yet not crediting me for all my scoops about Lourd’s and all the agents’ role.)
There’s another ”Gay Gate” picketing event organized by members of the WGA West’s Gay & Lesbian Writers Committee for gay and lesbian writers, talent, and other supporters today at NBC Studios in Burbank (at the Alameda Gate) from 10 AM to 1 PM.
I’m told the AMPTP’s so-called PR council formed by corporate communications execs at the studios and networks really want to make their own clever YouTube videos to compete with the ones up and running by striking WGA members. No greenlights yet. Until then, here’s a wry WGA-member written video entitled “Harsh Words” — a riff on the actors-scribes “Speechless” campaign — purporting to state a very unofficial AMPTP position. (It’s a fake AMPTP video, guys, not a real one.)
Here’s an interesting writers strike PR nugget I just found out: Turns out both sides, first the Hollywood moguls and then the WGA, wanted to hire former Clinton White House press secretary Joe Lockhart as their official mouthpiece. Lockhart, now founding partner and president of the consulting firm Glover Park Group specializing in advocacy advertising, gained fame for flacking the Clinton impeachment trials. The mutual feeling was, if he can handle that, then a Hollywood strike will be a cakewalk. The former journalist was also a senior advisor to John Kerry’s 2004 presidential campaign. It would have been an interesting choice by both sides since Lockhart, who specializes in sensitive communications matters and media management in the information age, is a slickster who doesn’t look or act slick, thanks to that desheveled appearance and pleasant persona he cultivates. Sadly, it was not to be. I’m told that when both sides went after him simultaneously, he decided it was a lose-lose situation and bowed out gracefully. Too bad, because the Washington press corps already gave him the nickname “J-Lo”.
So this bitchslapping contest has been developing all day. Best if I just give you the dueling statements. CBS issued theirs tonight and it’s a doozie:
“Two weeks ago, CBS officials, in an effort of cooperation, contacted the WGA leadership and asked them to suspend the picketing for just a couple of hours on December 10 so the Democratic presidential debate could go on and the democratic process could be served. Our request was met with silence. Their statement today clearly misrepresents our attempt to have a civil discourse with the Guild so that this event of national importance could proceed.”
That was in response to this WGA statement earlier today:
“The Writers Guild of America, East and the Writers Guild of America, West regret that the Democratic National Committee has had to cancel the December 10th Presidential Debate hosted by CBS. This was triggered by CBS’ fear that the Democratic candidates would not cross a picket line by WGA-CBS News writers or WGA Film and TV writers to participate in the debate – a concern that could have been avoided entirely if CBS would simply sit down and negotiate a fair contract for its news and entertainment employees. Instead, CBS chose to make a decision that stifles the democratic process.”
This is one of those stories that’s a lot more interesting to journalists than it is to striking writers or even Hollywood. But I’d been hearing for several days that Barbara Brogliatti, who two years ago retired from a bigwig PR job at Warner Bros only to be brought back recently as the primary spokesperson for the AMPTP, was exiting that role. Now I can confirm that “Brog” is taking on a newly defined gig with the CEOs group as a senior advisor. “She decided over the Thanksgiving Weekend to get out of the day-to-day. Or in her words, ‘she’s taking her life back,’ ” a pal of hers told me.
This is no big surprise because Brogliatti would much rather be at her multiple homes up north in wine country. But I also know first-hand that she was increasingly frustrated at having to take all those dopey calls from too many journalists who prefer to be spoon-fed than actually spend a little shoe leather chasing down the WGA walkout story. Jeez.
Of course, the AMPTP’s PR has been abysmal, and the word is this was a palace coup, but on the other hand it’s awfully hard to make Big Media corporations sympathetic during a strike. Especially when the studios and networks refuse to resort … Read More »
Stagehands and producers have reached tentative agreement to end the walkout tonight. The strike initiated by Local One on November 10th lasted 19 days before the union came to a resolution with the League of American Theatres and Producers.
Yes, the AMPTP and WGA are still talking — or what passes for talking between this bunch. What was only supposed to be three days of talks is now four days of talks. Next round skedded for 10 AM Thursday.
UPDATE: I’ll have a full report about the Talks Day #3.
“Shout out to all the pickets at Television City. Let them know writers won’t be treated shitty.” Rumor has it the lyrics on this video are to be committed to memory by Friday (or you striking writers will be forced to picket at Paramount…).
So much for anchor Katie Couric’s moment in the presidential political spotlight. That televised debate set for next month among the Democratic presidential candidates has been canceled to avoid a potential conflict with striking WGA writers. The decision was made by the Democratic National Committee concerning the embattled December 10th debate at CBS Television City in Los Angeles, where pickets gather every day. But the decision to cancel also coincides with the WGA saying this AM that CBS news writers are ”strongly considering” a December 10th strike date. The timing appeared to be an attempt by union leadership to disrupt the CBS debate plans for the same day. Candidates Barack Obama, John Edwards and Hillary Clinton have all said they won’t cross a picket line to participate in a debate.
UPDATE: What CBS said today: “CBS News regrets not being able to offer the Democratic presidential debate scheduled for December 10th in Los Angeles. The possibility of picket lines set up by the Writers Guild of America and the unwillingness of many candidates to cross them made it necessary to allow the candidates to make other plans.”