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The War Of The Words - How Writers Nearly Killed Oscar

Though it kicked off officially on 5 November 2007, the Writers’ Strike had been brewing for longer than that. At issue was the re-negotiation of the Writers Guild of America’s contract with the AMTP (the Association of Motion Picture and Television Producers), which represents the studios. After several meetings, proposals and counter-proposals (not to mention plenty of arguments), the two sides failed to come to an agreement and the WGA issued a strike ratification order at the start of October. Talks resumed, but little progress was made, and the writers hit the picket line.

While film production could continue, television was harder hit, with some shows – particularly the late-night talk shows and topical comedies such as The Daily Show – shut down immediately, followed by sitcoms, which have a faster turnover of scripts. One of the main sticking points in the writers’ argument was the percentage writers will receive from New Media – particularly on episodes and other footage shown on the Internet. The studios tried to claim that a lot of this is “promotional” and therefore doesn’t count as “work”, but the scribes weren’t buying. After a month, the sides were no closer to a deal.

In January, some smaller studios – such as Tom Cruise’s United Artists, along with several production companies, cut deals with the WGA so that they could get back to work on scripts. But the real worry started for award shows. The Oscar producers began approaching the WGA about a waiver (the likes of the NAACP Image Awards had already been granted one, allowing them to go ahead with writers and, more importantly, stars in attendance) but the Guild refused, cannily realising that the studios would feel the pain if the likes of the Golden Globes and the Academy Awards were affected. Meanwhile, the Directors Guild of America reached its own deal with the AMPTP without striking. The writers were urged to consider the package for themselves, but no one thought it a good enough reason to stop the strike.

 

And so, on January 13, the Hollywood Foreign Press Association swapped its usual star-studded Golden Globes gala for a dull-as-ditchwater, actor-free press conference. Entertainment Weekly estimated that the loss of the kudos fest cost Hollywood’s various businesses between $70 and $90 million. The cost should the Oscars fail to go ahead? More like $130 million. That’s a lot of hairdressers, stylists, limo drivers and blokes who lay red carpet out of work. Fortunately for Oscars producer Gil Cates and his team the WGA forged an agreement and the strike ended on February 12. After three months and at a $2.5 billion cost to LA industry, the WGA won most of what they were after – a better deal on DVD residuals and that all-important control over online work.

But what /would/ the Oscars have looked like in a strike-hit Hollywood?
Back when the dispute was still raging, Cates announced that the awards team were undaunted – they were busily coming up with a Plan B in case the strike was still in effect. No one has seen the proposed emergency back up, but Cates has since described it as "the most exotic and interesting clip show in the history of television." It would also likely have meant zero stars showing up, as the Screen Actors Guild had agreed to boycott any event without a waiver from the WGA. Even if actors had showed up, the prospect of stars bumbling along having written their own remarks isn’t really a pleasant one. While some (George Clooney, anyone?) are quick on their feet, we’d really have just wanted to see the likes of Seth Rogen and Will Ferrell – proven improvisers – presenting awards.

Now we get the full on pomp and circumstance – even though Cates’ team has only had weeks in which to write the show and presenter Jon Stewart and his writers have had literally a few days to come up with their material – and everyone is thankful for that.

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