Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Short Takes – December 5, 2007

If all things had been equal, this would have been out on Saturday – Sunday at the latest. Instead I caught a cold and spent Saturday and Sunday going between napping sneezing and blowing my nose. Not a good weekend for me and from the looks of it, between snow and cold temperatures, not that great a week.

Strike 1: This is the main story of course. Last week started optimistically when the two sides actually sat down and started talking. In fact Nikki Frinke, whose Deadline Hollywood Daily has become the source for relatively unbiased news about the strike (I'd say she leans towards the writers but not as much as the established trade papers – Variety and The Hollywood Reporter – lean towards AMPTP) came very close to saying that the strike was over, something which I'm sure she regretted soon after she posted it. On Thursday of last week AMPTP presented their latest offer and the Writers Guild rejected it. And they both did it fairly publicly too with AMPTP sending out a press release saying that they had, "unveiled a New Economic Partnership to the WGA, which includes groundbreaking moves in several areas of new media, including streaming, content made for new media and programming delivered over digital broadcast channels." Among other things they claimed that this "New Economic Partnership" would deliver "more than $130 million in additional compensation."
The Writers Guild response was to reject the proposal claiming that "it dealt only with streaming and made-for-Internet jurisdiction, and it amounts to a massive rollback."
They specifically pull the program apart piece by piece. And based on the details that the Guild released I can't fault them in the least. Just consider these little nuggets:

  • The companies proposed a residual structure of a single fixed payment of less than $250 for a year's reuse of an hour-long program (compared to over $20,000 payable for a network rerun). For theatrical product they are offering no residuals whatsoever for streaming.
  • For made-for-Internet material, they offered minimums that would allow a studio to produce up to a 15 minute episode of network-derived web content for a script fee of $1,300. They continued to refuse to grant jurisdiction over original content for the Internet.
  • They made absolutely no move on the download formula (which they propose to pay at the DVD rate), and continue to assert that they can deem any reuse "promotional," and pay no residual (even if they replay the entire film or TV episode and even if they make money).

Let's just look at these for a bit. The $250 fee for a year's reuse of an hour-long program online hardly seems fair as compared to the $20,000 fee for a rerun but when you add in the fact that many hour-long series aren't rerun at all (24, and Lost come to mind immediately) while episodes are frequently watched online or purchased on iTunes and it suddenly becomes far more significant. The question of made for the Internet material is also a major point; writers are being asked to accept a one-time only payment for material of 15 minutes or less regardless of how often the material is viewed or how much revenue is generated (through the sale of commercials). The big thing about the download formula – iTunes – isn't so much the question of the DVD rate (after all that is still to be negotiated) but that last part, where the studios and networks "continue to assert that they can deem any reuse "promotional," and pay no residual (even if they replay the entire film or TV episode and even if they make money)." I can't really see any union accepting such a proposal. And in fact they haven't. On Tuesday the Guild made their counterproposal on streaming material. According to their press release the Guild proposes a tiered system of compensation with a base payment increasing as the number of views of the material reaches a specified level: "It's a simple and fair idea – as with a traditional residual structure, there is a basic payment for the right to use content on the internet. And, as the work is used more and more, different tiers of compensation kick in - as the companies make more, the content creator makes more. All we ask is that if the content is a huge hit, our compensation scales upward accordingly. The company and the content creators share in the success."

Of course the economics of the strike aren't restricted to just what the writers want. Jonathon Handel has an interesting piece in The Huffington Post. Handel's major point is that the 4 increase in DVD residuals that the WGA was demanding (I'm not sure if any increase in DVD residuals is still on the table) will actually amount to an increase of 38 to the studios once contracts with the Screen Actors Guild (SAG) and the Directors Guild of America (DGA) and the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees (IATSE) are completed. Why? Because the WGA contract (assuming of course they settle before any of the others) will be the model or pattern upon which the other unions will base their settlements. But, "SAG's formula is three times as large as the WGA's, and the IA's is four and one-half times as large. (The DGA's is the same as the WGA's.) New media formulas can be expected to mirror each other across unions in the same fashion." Meaning that once all the negotiations are completed the studios will actually be paying out 9.5 times what the Writers get (1x to the WGA + 1x for the DGA + 3x for SAG + 4.5x). Handel goes through a lot of figures to prove that for some movies the 38residual
might in fact be too much. On the other hand his figures "prove" that the increases the Guilds and IATSE want in "new media" eminently affordable (but I have to say I can't really fathom the numbers he uses.

NBC orders back nine: In this season of the strike, orders for a back nine really doesn't matter that much, particularly when it comes after the strike started, but I suppose it's a show of confidence for them that gets them and a distinct lack of confidence for them that don't. The two new shows that NBC gave back nine orders to were Chuck and Life while the shows that haven't had an announced back nine are Journeyman and Bionic Woman. And the fact that, as reported by Cinema Blend the order for the back nine came almost a month after the start of the strike has to mean a great deal to anyone involved with Chuck and Life. Now admittedly there is absolutely no guarantee that another episode of either of these shows will be made (although in the case of Chuck, it seems to have been doing well enough to justify a renewal before the strike) it has to signal something.

Strike 2: The networks aren't exactly sitting on their collective duffs renewing shows that might never be made however. Both CBS and NBC have announced their new Winter Schedules – which can also be called their Strike Schedules. As you might expect they are long on "Reality" Series, Game Shows and programs that the networks were saving in the event that something didn't work with the public (but remember how well – as in not very – those replacement shows worked last year) as well as reruns of existing series where they thought they could get away with it.

NBC will be bringing back 1 vs. 100 (which I confess that I really like) to go along with Deal Or No Deal and The Singing Bee. Clash Of Choirs in which five well known musicians assemble local choirs for competition will air for four nights in December before being replaced by the revival of American Gladiators on January 7th (though the series debuts the night before). Hosting American Gladiators will be Hulk Hogan and Laila Ali. Apparently this resurrection of American Gladiator will be a two hour show. Celebrity Apprentice will be on Thursday night starting January 3rd in the second hour of primetime, serving as a lead in for the drama series Lipstick Jungle which will replace ER starting in February. Returning from exile on the USA Network will be Law & Order: Criminal Intent, which will precede the original Law & Order on Wednesday night.

CBS will have another season of Survivor as well as the first Winter version of Big Brother. Both debut in February with Big Brother appearing on Tuesday, Wednesday, and Sunday nights. The Drew Carey hosted game show Power Of 10 will be seen on Wednesday nights in January before giving over the time slot to Big Brother and the mini-series Comanche Moon which was supposed to air in December will instead be seen on January 13th, 15th and 16th. The seven episode run of Jericho will debut on February 12th in the third hour of Tuesday night (always a tough time slot for CBS). The New Adventures Of Old Christine will return on January 28th, replacing Rules of Engagement while a new comedy starring Jeffrey Tambor, The Captain, will replace Big Bang Theory on the same night. CBS programming head Les Moonves has also speculated on the possibility of bringing at least one series, Dexter, over from CBS`s Showtime cable network. CBS has also indicated that they will rerun a large number of their existing series.

What do the presidential candidates watch:
Cinema Blend had this from TV Guide and quite frankly its the sort of thing TV Guide would ask a presidential candidate. Hillary Clinton likes American Idol, Dancing With the Stars and home makeover shows (Extreme Makeover: White House Edition anyone?) while Barack Obama likes M*A*S*H, The Wire and Spongebob Squarepants (he says he watches with his daughter – a likely story). John Edwards likes Boston Legal (hmm, I wonder why) and admits to liking the episodes of Law & Order with Fred Thompson. Thompson on the other hand doesn't list his old series as one of his favourites – he watches ESPN's Sportcenter (obviously one of those actors who can't bear to see himself on screen). Dennis Kucinich – he of the crazy ideas and hot wife – likes The Daily Show, Saturday Night Live and the late night talk shows, although he's probably not watching Carson Daly now that he's back since he says he loves the shows for their brilliant writing. Mitt Romney likes Lost, saying (somewhat incongruously in my opinion) that "if you live a busy life, escape is always welcome." Huh? Finally John McCain identifies with Prison Break because "as a fellow prisoner, I always dreamed and plotted how I would break out of the Hanoi Hilton." You are aware that it's a TV show, and the only ones doing any plotting are the writers, right John?

Strike 3: Who has what left? It seems as though the cupboards are bare for more shows after this week. Unfortunately this list is woefully incomplete but no one seems to have a better one than Michael Ausiello's list which is regularly updated.

0 episodes left (done like dinner)

  • Big Bang Theory
  • Bionic Woman
  • Heroes
  • The Office

1 episode left (save it for later or eat it now?)

  • Criminal Minds (last new episode will air next week)
  • Shark (last new episode airs this coming Sunday)
  • Pushing Daisies (last new episode will air next week)
  • Desperate Housewives (no airing date announced)
  • How I Met Your Mother (last new episode will air next week)

2 episodes left (on the edge)

  • Back To You
  • Grey's Anatomy
  • My Name Is Earl
  • Reaper
  • Private Practice
  • Chuck

3 episodes left (no need to panic)

  • 30 Rock
  • Supernatural (may have as many as 5 left)
  • CSI
  • Numb3rs
  • Bones
  • House
  • Brothers & Sisters

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