Thursday, November 08, 2007

The New York Times
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November 8, 2007

Escalation of Tactics in Writers’ Strike

LOS ANGELES, Nov. 8 — At least two major television studios, 20th Century Fox and CBS Paramount, have sent breach-of-contract letters to the show runners on their current series who have stopped performing their production duties once they went on strike with other television writers.

The move marks an escalation of hardball tactics by the studios. Earlier this week, the studios had said they expected that the show runners — the writer-producers who oversee some of their biggest hits on television — would continue to work on the shows performing duties besides writing.

But after many of the industry’s top show runners said publicly that they did not intend to do any work as long as the strike by members of the Writers Guild of America continued, the studios began notifying the writer-producers that they would no longer be paid as producers if they failed to show up at work.

CBS Paramount, the studio behind hits like “CSI” and its spinoffs and “Rules of Engagement,” which are broadcast on CBS, and “Medium” on NBC, began sending the letters this week after some show runners failed to show up for work once the writers’ strike began on Monday, a person involved in the production of network television shows who spoke on the condition of anonymity said.

A spokesman for 20th Century Fox said the studio, whose shows include “Prison Break” on Fox, “The Unit” on CBS and “My Name Is Earl” on NBC, said its letter notified writer-producers that their pay was being suspended in response to their failure “to report to work and render their non-writing producing services.”

As executive producers on the programs that they often created, show runners have many duties in addition to writing, including casting, overseeing sound mixing, and editing footage into 22- or 44-minute television episodes.

But many show runners have said they believe that they could not perform those broader duties without simultaneously continuing as writers, and therefore that they intended to stay away from work altogether.

That put a crimp in the plans of most of the major television studios to finish production of episodes of series for which they received finished scripts before the beginning of the strike by the East and West branches of the Writers Guild of America.

Most television series have non-writing producers who have continued to work while the Writers Guild is on strike, allowing the studios in some cases to continue production. But some series have already shut down production, including NBC Universal’s “The Office” and four comedies that air on CBS on Monday nights: “How I Met Your Mother,” “The Big Bang Theory,” “Two and a Half Men” and “Rules of Engagement.”

In a meeting on Wednesday afternoon, a group of more than 100 show runners who had picketed together outside the headquarters of the Walt Disney Company that morning agreed that they would be willing to go back to work if the two sides — the Writers Guild and the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers — would return to the bargaining table in good faith, according to a show runner who participated in the meeting.