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SUNDAY AT 10:02 PM: ALL DAY TALKS HAVE COLLAPSED! NEGOTIATIONS ENDED WHEN WGA EAST REFUSED TO STOP STRIKE! I’M TOLD THAT, BEFORE THIS, REAL PROGRESS WAS BEING MADE BY BOTH SIDES WITH MAJOR CONCESSIONS ON MAJOR ISSUES.

An AMPTP insider just told me: “The WGA went out on strike at 12:01 AM Eastern. At about 9:30 PM Pacific they informed us they were on strike and left the hotel.” I heard this took place after AMPTP claims it made the following concession: to give the WGA exclusive jurisdiction for made-for-New Media.

Here’s the just released statement from the motion picture and television producers’ alliance president Nick Counter:  “Notwithstanding the fact that negotiations were ongoing, the WGA decided to start their strike in New York.  When we asked if they would “stop the clock” for the purpose of delaying the strike to allow negotiations to continue, they refused. We made an attempt at meeting them in a number of their key areas including Internet streaming and jurisdiction in New Media. Ultimately, the guild was unwilling to compromise on most of their major demands. It is unfortunate that they choose to take this irresponsible action.”

But the WGA East claims in a huge headline on its website that AMPTP walked out of the negotiations. “As of 12:01 AM November 5th, the WGA strike is on in the Eastern time zone. WGAE members should report for picketing at Rockefeller Plaza starting at 9:00 AM today. At 12:30 AM EST, the AMPTP walked out of day-long negotiations.  All Guild-covered work under the MBA ceased at 12:01 a.m. EST on Monday, November 5, 2007.”

Before midnight, the WGA issued this statement:

“Early today, the WGA completely withdrew its DVD proposal, which the Companies said was a stumbling block. Yet, the Companies still insisted on the following:

“–> No jurisdiction for most of new media writing.

“–> No economic proposal for the part of new media writing where they do propose to give coverage.

“–> Internet downloads at the DVD rate.

“–> No residual for streaming video of theatrical product.

“–> A ‘promotional’ proposal that allows them to reuse even complete movies or TV shows on any platform with no residual. This proposal alone destroys residuals.

“–> A ‘window’ of free reuse on the Internet that makes a mockery of any residual.

“The AMPTP made no response to any of the other proposals that the WGA has made since July. The AMPTP proposed that today’s meeting be ‘off the record’, meaning no press statements, but they have reneged on that.”

Tonight, a frustrated and disappointed mogul source just called the day of fruitless talks ”unbelievable” and told me about the WGA side, “We made concessions all day long. Then we asked them, ‘Can you push back the strike tomorrow so we can keep negotiating?’ They said no. Then someone went on the website and saw the WGA were already striking in NY.”

Both sides made major concessions today right up until dinner. And when they came back from their meal, the strike deadline in the East was at hand. That. Was. The. End. Of. That.

I’ll be trying to find out more about what happened inside of that negotiating room. Obviously, the AMPTP is off the mark first PR-wise. But tomorrow will be the WGA’s camera time. Still, I’m deeply aggravated with both sides… not that I was really expecting a Miracle On Wilshire Blvd. I’ll have stronger stuff to say on all this tomorrow.

SUNDAY AT 10:00 PM: BIG PROBLEM! I just heard the Hollywood moguls are furious that the WGA wouldn’t stop or at least suspend the start of the East strike at 12:01 am while the talks out West were continuing. ”They went out on strike in NY while we were negotiating.  Game over,” a producers insider just told me. The all-day talks have collapsed.

SUNDAY AT 9:01 PM: For the Writers Guild of America, East, the strike has  started for the 4,000-strong membership: “Pencils Down” since it’s 12:01 a.m. there. Here in Los Angeles, the WGA and the Alliance of Motion Picture & Television Producers keep talking. What a nail-biter!

SUNDAY AT 8:30 PM: BOTH SIDES ARE BACK TO TALKING AFTER A BRIEF DINNER BREAK. I must say that, from the looks of things right now, the WGA will be out in force on the picket lines Monday morning barring a last-minute miracle. The Hollywood moguls are hoping to avert tomorrow’s walkout altogether and/or have a cooling off period before a strike starts. But the WGA leaders sounded adamant all day. “We are mobilized. Unless there is significant progress to the extent that Patric Verrone says the strike is off, we’re going out tomorrow,” a top WGA insider told me. A large showrunner meeting was held yesterday and some 85 top TV producer/writers attended to show their support for the strike. Meanwhile, in offices all over Hollywood, writers and showrunners and hyphenates were working feverishly to finish scripts tonight before the strike starts at 12:01 a.m so that, among other things, they’ll get paid. I’ve just heard about one screenwriter who’ll be directing the film he wrote: he penned three different drafts with three different endings in advance so he could change his mind as a director without breaking the WGA’s “Pencils Down” rule.

Meanwhile, I hear an ad is being talked about for the trades expressing support of a WGA strike from a number of high-profile actors.

Earlier today, the Writers Guild Of America announced its 15 picketing locations on its website and in emails to members who’ll show up in red shirts starting at 9 am — CBS Radford Studios, CBS Television City, Culver Studios, Disney Studios, Fox Studios, Hollywood Center Studios, NBC Burbank, Prospect Studios, Paramount Studios / Raleigh Studios Hollywood, Raleigh Studios Manhattan Beach, Sony Pictures Studios, Sunset Gower Studios, Universal Studios, Warner Bros Studios. At the WGA east, picket lines will be set up in such prominent NYC locations as Rockefeller Plaza where NBC is based.

There are two picketing shifts, 9 am – 1 pm, 1 pm – 5 pm, and the Guild “expects” all members to picket 5 days a week/4 hours a day.  Tonight, the WGA urged an “overwhelming response” pressured members to pull one 4-hour shift a day for the first week. “I’ve heard that a couple of people are greeting the news that their presence is required on the picket line with the very human and yet disappointing, ‘Cool… So, um, what happens if we don’t show up?’” a WGA email said. “So be aware: Failure to picket is a violation of Strike Rule 10, which says: ‘You must picket and/or perform other strike support duties and cooperate with Guild committees charged with enforcement of the Strike Rules…’ Absent a valid medical excuse, non-writing employment, compelling personal circumstances [necessary child or elder care] or emergency, you are obligated to perform these duties when and where requested.  If there is a personal circumstance making strike support duties impossible when requested, members are required to arrange alternate times to contribute to the strike effort…’ Basically, failing to picket is a punishable offense.  The Strike Rules Disciplinary is now forming to handle disciplinary issues. Strike captains will keep track of people who don’t show up and are required to first warn those people and then forward the names to the Committee.”

Earlier, WGA members attending strike prep meetings heard how “Teamsters are risking their jobs to support us. SAG is encouraging members to walk the picket lines with us.  Thus, it’s crucial that WGA members be there, especially that first week. If we want this strike to be short and effective, a massive showing that disrupts production is critical.”

The WGA also is “actively welcoming” non-members who want to join the picket line, and claims it’s been ”deluged” with volunteers.

In Los Angeles today, a dozen white vans were loaded up with picket signs, bottled water, snacks and folding tables at the Writers Guild of America-West headquarters late today in expectation of its union members taking to the streets instead of sitting at their computers.  Red and black signs saying “Writers Guild of America on Strike,” and others with red letters and a stylized combination exclamation point/lightning bolt, were unveiled to the assembled media reporters.

Meanwhile, on Saturday, ridiculous rumors began floating through the entertainment industry that chief WGA negotiator David Young, named executive director of the guild  since last year, was going to use the tactics of his background as an organizer of garment workers, carpenters and construction laborers, and hire “goons” to disrupt studios and network business, incite violence and ensure arrests. Even the producers’ side told me today this was fabricated b.s.

SUNDAY AT 6:30 PM: They’re still talking… There was supposed to be a 6 pm WGA board meeting tonight, but it’s been delayed because the two sides continue to meet. “There’s some tentative optimism,” an insider just told me.

SUNDAY AT 5 PM: I’ve just confirmed the federal mediator-ordered talks are still going on.

SUNDAY AT 3 PM: “Things are looking up a little bit at today’s meeting,” a good source just told me about the federal mediator-ordered confab Sunday.

SUNDAY AT NOON: I’ve learned that John Wells has the support of certain Hollywood moguls and certain WGA leaders to try to broker a writers vs producers settlement at this 11th hour. “It’s hoped he can play a role like Lew Wasserman used to,” one insider tells me, referring to the legendary MCA/Universal mogul who for decades took the lead settling such labor strife. johnwellsbig.jpgIt looks nearly impossible for Wells, the Writers Guild Of America ex-president who’s also one of the most successful TV producers/writers (ER, West Wing, Third Watch), to stave off the strike starting Monday. But I’m relieved to hear that he’s made some progress during these backchannel discussions because of a new willingness on the part of bigwigs on both sides to get a true dialogue going outside the AMPTP’s Nick Counter vs WGA’s Patric Verrone/Dave Young axis of paralysis. The big question is whether Wells et al can quietly keep at it. That’s why I’ve been under pressure yesterday and today not to report what I’ve learned. But this is too important to stay under wraps.

Here are more details…

Anyone familiar with the go-round of writers vs producers negotiations from 1999 to 2001 knows that Wells was considered something of a sellout by WGA standards when he failed to make inroads for the guild on the vital issue of DVD residuals with the moguls. So it was with immense surprise that I heard his entrance into this weekend’s pre-strike fray came not only with the blessing of moguls Barry Meyer of Warner Bros, Peter Chernin of News Corp/Fox, and Bob Iger of Disney/ABC among other CEOs, but also with the blessing of some of the WGA leadership. I hear that the WGA Negotiating Committee Chair John Bowman was specifically talking about Wells when he recently made reference to backchannel talks going on. “Bowman decided to use John Wells to try to get a dialogue going. The guild has put its trust in Wells,” a top WGA insider explained to me. (UPDATE: Tonight, some of Wells’ most ardent defenders tell me that, regarding Wells ”selling out” as WGA president, “there’s what we deserve and what we actually can get. Two very different things that I’m not sure our current leadership understands,” one of his pals explains. “I think John is the perfect person to talk to everyone at this point.  He has everyone’s respect as he is a gentleman.”)

This, needless to say, is a huge development. At the same time, Wells, one of the biggest names in Warner Bros’ TV stable, was already quietly talking to Barry Meyer since the two have a long and close and profitable relationship. But I just heard tonight that Wells at first wasn’t at all interested in getting involved in these negotiations because he’d felt so badly beaten up by his membership during the talks under his WGA presidency.

So here’s the chronology, best as I can put it together: On Friday, Desperate Housewives‘ Marc Cherry, who’s also part of the WGA negotiating committee, talked with his studio boss, Bob Iger, to see if the moguls would meet with the WGA leadership this weekend. That proved a non-starter, and things really looked bleak Friday night.

With the strike about to start Monday, Cherry called Bowman, and Bowman decided to use John Wells “to try to smooth things”. Then Wells called Barry Meyer offering to act, I’m told, as ”consigliare” (because there are always Godfather references in everything Hollywood does). Then Barry Meyer called Bob Iger and Peter Chernin. And then CBS’ Les Moonves and Sony’s Michael Lynton and Amy Pascal and MGM’s Harry Sloan etc were brought up to speed. And then the moguls phoned not just one another but also the top WGA screenwriters and TV showrunners/hyphenates with whom they’ve all had the longest relationships to schmooze them about the need for backchannel talks. As a WGA top insider said to me, “These relationships are what we need to get this thing going on the right track in the right direction.” For instance, I heard that Moonves rang up Chuck Lorre since two of his shows — Two And A Half Men and The Big Bang Theory — are on CBS. Then there are the showrunners who sit on the WGA’s negotiating committee and who almost all also have network series on the air right now: besides Cherry, they include Neal Baer (NBC’s Law & Order: SVU) , Carlton Cuse (ABC’s Lost), Carol Mendelsohn (CBS’ CSI), Shawn Ryan (CBS’ The Unit)and Larry Wilmore (Fox’s The Bernie Mac Show which was cancelled last May). This is exactly in keeping with what I’ve heard all along: the only people able to end this are the moguls and TV hyphenates.

Right now, the moguls are desperately trying to keep quiet exactly which WGA screenwriters and showrunners they’re lobbying out of fear that, according to one insider, “blood and guts unionist tactics by the Norma Rae’s of some of the WGA leadership” will pressure them to “sit on the sidelines letting this train wreck of a strike happen.” The goal of everyone, from the moguls to the WGA to Wells, was to try to ensure that all parties would go into today’s federal mediator-ordered meeting with an open mind.

Look, no one knows better than I what an imperfect go-between Wells is here. I wrote back on October 19th that “I still marvel at the chutzpah of John Wells, who won the WGA presidency in 1999, even though he was the moneybags TV producer behind ER and West Wing. He then split the Writers Guild into haves and have-nots, and failed in 2001 to stand firm on any of the hard issues, ensuring in the process that no strike would interrupt his own wheelbarrows of cash. Then, shortly after the WGA pact was negotiated, Wells wound up the subject of a New York Times article for not honoring the provisions in his West Wing writers’ contracts for increased pay and promotions.”

Today I’m saying to Wells’ past critics: Give him a chance…

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