UPDATE: Marshall Herskovitz just made contact with me and helps clarify aspects of the quarterlife deal with NBC raised in my earlier post (see below):
“I never said that our ownership structure makes us exempt from the strike. What I said was that the scripts for these six hours were finished before the strike began. What I also said was that I have already contacted the Writers Guild and offered to negotiate an independent contract favorable to the writers. It is our right to do that since we own the show, regardless of how NBC might feel about it. Do you think it might possibly be in the Guild’s interest to negotiate a contract that gives writers the gains they’re looking for from the big media companies? I think so. Why don’t you ask Patric Verrone how he feels about it? I did.
“I really want to address the moral question. First of all, this deal with NBC was in the works for a long time, since considerably before the strike. They had a right of first refusal for network distribution — so I had no legal grounds to say no to them. That’s important.
“But more important to me is the fact that I’m an independent production company in television — an extinct species brought back to life. The fact that I can negotiate a separate deal with the WGA is highly significant. If enough companies do that — for instance Google as you mention in your column — the AMPTP will lose all its leverage. There is a long history of this. During some previous strikes, the WGA was willing to negotiate independent contracts with non-AMPTP companies so that they could keep working while AMPTP companies couldn’t. It’s literally the mirror image of hiring scab labor to break a union. I’m a scab production company, and happy to be of service.
“You really should ask Patric Verrone how he feels about it. We had a very cordial conversation the other day where he was supportive of what we’re doing and open at least to discussing an independent contract. I know the issues involved in the strike are complicated, but please don’t leave out what I said in my op-ed piece. I am delivering completed episodes to a network where they have not even seen the scripts. This is absolutely unprecedented. Creative freedom may be less measurable than the concrete issues now in contention during the strike, but it’s just as important to writers.”
Previous: There’s an awful lot of strike talk, and squawk, about Ed Zwick and Marshall Herskovitz (the team behind thirtysomething and My So-Called Life) selling their 36-episode Internet show quarterlife which just debuted on MySpace.com to NBC as a six-episode hour-long network series to run during the WGA strike. (Watch Episode 1 and Episode 2 here.) It’s reportedly the most expensive online video series ever produced. This marks the first time a program made for online distribution has been picked up by a major network – although the script for quarterlife was in fact passed on by ABC a few years ago. NBC has paid for the rights to air the show in the U.S. sometime in February, plus internationally, on DVD and on the web. But there are many questions, the biggest of which is whether it’s morally right that quarterlife, as an Internet venture, may be protected from the writer’s strike. (The show had been financed by Herskovitz and Zwick with advertisers and private investors and they retain 100% ownership and creative control. NBC agreed to become a partner in quarterlife by paying a license fee that was much less than what is paid for conventional shows.) And that’s what Herskovitz’s and Zwick’s writer colleagues are so incensed about since the duo are both WGA members (using SAG actors in the series) and they’re helping NBC program quality content during the strike. This, after Herskovitz recently railed against what he sees as the creative stranglehold the large media companies have put on show creators as well as voiced his support for the writers’ strike. On the other hand, others are suggesting that this is the first wave of an independent production future for writers and could lead, say, to Google and the WGA striking a deal.
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