Strike Update: Guarded Optimism

As the writers and studios/networks prepared to resume formal talks on Monday, the mood in Hollywood was hopeful, but realistic.

Heads of the top talent agencies in Hollywood and s of the various network conglomerates—CBS Corp.’s Leslie Moonves, Warner Bros.’s Barry Meyer, News Corp.’s Peter Chernin and Disney’s Robert Iger—joined forces to nudge the leadership of the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers (AMPTP) back to the negotiating table. Meanwhile, CAA partner Bryan Lourd reached out to David Young, executive director of the Writers Guild of America (WGA).

During three weeks of picketing by the WGA and ally unions including the Screen Actors Guild, network s attempted to put the best face on the work stoppage, claiming they had ample new content to take them into the new year and beyond. But privately, they have become increasingly concerned about the potential damage of a long-term strike. And while Wall Street has been distracted by record losses and skyrocketing oil prices, the subconscious effect on the conglomerates’ shareholders cannot be underestimated.

Disney stock was at a 52-week low last week, and CBS Corp. has tumbled 18% this year and was trading near its 52-week low.

In a letter sent to employees last week, Moonves reiterated that there are “substantial” differences separating the WGA and the AMPTP, which represents the interests of networks and studios, but that an agreement can be forged through “hard work, patience and understanding.”

“We are all, producers and writers alike, looking forward to an end to this strike, and realize that there’s no way it can be resolved unless both sides are talking. Sitting down for serious discussions is an important first step in the resolution of our differences,” wrote Moonves.

On another front, Directors Guild of America members in sports and news divisions at ABC, CBS and NBC last week reached a tentative agreement with the networks for a new three-year contract. The deal will be sent to membership for ratification in January, but DGA leadership fully expects the contract to be approved.

The DGA deal comes on the heels of a strike authorization by WGA employees at CBS News’ TV and radio operations in New York, Chicago, Los Angeles and Washington, D.C. The guild membership—which includes news writers, editors, desk assistants, production assistants, graphic artists, promotion writers and researchers on the national and local levels—hopes that the strike authorization will get CBS leadership back to the bargaining table, according to a WGA spokesperson. However, CBS said in a statement that the company has had a “fair and reasonable” contract offer on the table since October 2006.

“We hope there is no strike,” the statement continued. “Should there be, however, CBS News, CBS Television Stations and CBS Radio remain fully prepared and ready to continue producing the highest-quality news programming for our viewers.”

The two sides have not met since January 2007, and CBS News’ WGA members will undoubtedly be keeping a close eye on the WGA negotiations in Hollywood.