Striking Writers Guild of America members expressed both tempered optimism and wariness on Wednesday in response to the news that the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers had reached out to restart talks amid stalled contract negotiations.
“I hope they’re serious, I hope that they are coming to this with a much more open mind than they had last time,” said three-time WGA negotiating committee co-chair Billy Ray (Captain Phillips), who is not playing that role this year. “I can tell you if they are, a deal will be made.”
Former WGA West president Howard Rodman added in a written statement, “One hopes that the AMPTP may at long last grasp that the cost of negotiating a fair deal is less than the cost of an ongoing strike. But Friday’s conversation is, quite simply, a single and very preliminary step.”
To one of many WGA leaders, who was not authorized to speak on the record, the news struck a familiar chord: “I feel like my ex of a year just called me up at 4 a.m. and asked if I miss them yet,” they joked. This person added, “It’s been 90-something days, it does feel like this is the right time for them to poke their heads and see if we’re willing to bend on any proposals. Even though when I saw the email, the first thing I thought was ‘Well, we’re not bending on any of these proposals, so I hope they’re ready for that.’ “
The WGA conveyed in a Tuesday night message to members that AMPTP president Carol Lombardini, who heads up negotiations on behalf of major studios and streamers, had reached out and requested a meeting for Friday “to discuss negotiations” (in other words, not to restart negotiations per se but to discuss potentially restarting negotiations). In their own statement, the AMPTP said, “We remain committed to finding a path to mutually beneficial deals with both unions,” meaning the WGA and performers’ union SAG-AFTRA, which is also on strike.
The Hollywood Reporter has confirmed that a meeting between the WGA and the AMPTP is currently set for Friday.
The meeting-to-discuss-meeting was the subject of some joking among scribes on Wednesday (“sure sounds like classic studio scheduling,” quipped No Good Nick showrunner David H. Steinberg in an email to The Hollywood Reporter), many of whom nevertheless called it a positive development. Said Legends of Tomorrow showrunner Marc Guggenheim, “It seems that the CEOs have finally decided to engage. Not re-engage. Engage.” Added One Day at a Time co-showrunner Mike Royce of the development, “It’s great! Let’s hope for the best, we’ll be picketing until it’s real.”
Caroline Dries, the Batwoman executive producer, described her position as being in “wait-and-see mode.” She added, “Any talking at this point feels like progress.”
Chatter had intensified this week about a return to the table, with one studio-side source saying the AMPTP had proposals it wanted to pose to its counterparts in labor. The priority is the writers because they need scripts before they need actors, per a different source.
The strategy behind speaking to the WGA first was also a topic of discussion among writers on Wednesday. “Now that everything is shut down, you will need to get the writers back to work before the actors if you want any network TV season at all,” argued one veteran showrunner. “Also, the actors seem more radicalized than the tone of Chris Keyser’s periodic, borderline soporific video essays,” this person said, referring to video messages featuring the co-chair of WGA’s negotiating committee.
When it comes to looking back at WGA negotiations history for guidance, data from the most recent WGA strike, in 2007-2008, is almost “irrelevant” compared to today’s double strike, the first since 1960, argued Steinberg. In 2007-2008, formal talks between management and labor restarted on the 22nd day of the work stoppage, and in the end the strike lasted 100 days in total. “This is a very different strike, and not only because SAG is out there with us,” he wrote. “So I think we would all hope that on Day 93 we’re going to get a more serious offer from AMPTP to really try to get across the finish line compared to Day 22 of 2007.”
Overall, writers who spoke to THR unanimously felt it was too early to project what the news could mean for the end date of the now three-months-long strike. Noted Zack Bornstein (Shrinking), “Every writer, actor, agent, exec, aunt, and barber I talk to has a different ‘insider’ rumor about when this will end, but the truth is no one knows.”
Said the WGA in its message to members on Tuesday night, “We’ll be back in communication with you sometime after the meeting with further information.”