The 2008 Writers Guild Awards fell on the waning days of the writers strike, with WGA West even cancelling their ceremony while the East Coast writers union held theirs as final touches were being put on the hard-fought new WGA-AMPTP agreement. Six years later, we’re in the final months of that agreement, and the 2014 WGA Awards tonight were held on the eve of the two sides kicking off negotiations on a new 3-year contract on Monday. “It’s hard to believe it’s been 6 years,” Christopher J Whitesell of best daytime drama winner Days Of Our Lives told Deadline. “Let’s hope it goes better this time than it did then.”
There has already been some contention, with WGA negotiating committee co-chairs Chip Johannessen and Billy Ray on Thursday expressing concern over a “surprise”opening proposal by producers that includes “$60 million in rollbacks for writers.” At the New York ceremony, WGAE president Michael Winship rallied the troops with a battle cry, “Divided we beg, united we bargain.” Most writers attending the events sounded optimistic about the the negotiations when asked by Deadline. Veteran Garry Marshall, recipient of the Paddy Chayefsky Laurel Award for Television Writing, joked, “We always are going on strike, it’s happened 5 or 6 times.” But he noted that the swift new DGA deal “gave a good inroad” for successful negotiations and “I hope the Writers Guild will follow.” Writers spent 100 days on the picket lines six years ago but, “I don’t think there will be a strike this time,” Marshall said. “We’ll only go on strike if it rains.”
Vince Gilligan, creator of Breaking Bad, which won best drama series and best episodic drama (for an episode penned by Gennifer Hutchison), gave a vote of confidence to the guild’s negotiating committee. “In general we are in good hands with Billy Ray and Chip Johannessen leading the negotiating committee and I know that they as always have the best interest of the writers, the membership at heart,” he said. “I know they’ll do a great job and I hope the companies just listen to them and give them the respect that they deserve.” (Side note: Hopefully the East and West Coast leaderships show better coordination in their joint negotiations with the studios as they did in synching up the New York and Los Angeles WGA Awards ceremonies tonight, which was completely out of whack.)
One of the main issues during the previous negotiations was new-media residuals for TV and film programming available on-demand for streaming or downloading online or on other digital platforms as well as original content for the Internet. But back then, probably few would’ve predicted the straight-to-Internet content would include high-end dramas normally associated with premium cable, like Netflix’s House Of Cards, winner tonight for best New Series. House Of Cards writer Kate Barnow hopes to see “more money” for writers working on digital series and parity with their traditional media colleagues. “Having been on an Internet — a new media project — (I hope) that they get in there and negotiate benefits for folks working in this medium, which is up and coming; that we get something on par with what cable gets.”
The 2007-08 WGA negotiations and strike were the first chronicled in real time on the Internet, which became a major weapon in the tactical war between the two sides. They hope to keep things quiet this time, at least for now. ”My lips are sealed,” one active WGA member told Deadline.”The Guild is being very careful about its communications — as it should.”
(Diane Haithman and Anthony D’Alessandro contributed to this report.)
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