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Writers' Strike: Despite Optimism, There's A Fly In Ointment

Writers Guild of America
CNBC.com
Writers Guild of America

The Writers Guild strike is 12 weeks old and wreaking havoc on the TV biz. There's no new scripted programming. The Oscars are less than a month away, and with no promises yet from the WGA that they won't picket, there are serious fears it could turn into another movie-clip heavy press conference. We've got reality TV alright, tons of it--but the viewers aren't satisfied.

Last week the top five broadcast networks ratings dropped 17 percent for the key 18-49 year old demographic. "American Idol" continues to be huge, but the numbers weren't as big for the first couple of shows as expected. Fox's (News Corp.) reality "Moment of Truth" debut was huge, but Fox's ratings are still down from last year, though Fox is ahead of the pack. ABC (Disney ) is expecting a boost from its new season of "Lost," which starts tonight. And CBS has "Survivor," starting February 7.

So what's happening? Almost all my sources have been expressing this general optimism that the strike will wrap up before the Oscars, which means soon. And earlier this week I'd heard that we'd get some news out of the WGA-AMPTP talks by the end of this week, though I'm not holding my breath.

Now another factor putting pressure on the WGA: 250 WGA members will lose their health care eligibility by April 1 if the strike lasts until then, despite the fact that the guild assured and reassured members that wouldn't happen. Yes, 250 is a small number, but it's symbolic--and is sure to make guild members put pressure on the leadership to wrap up the strike before then.

Despite the optimism, there is a new fly in Hollywood's proverbial ointment. Earlier this week the Screen Actors Guild dismissed the Director's Guild deal, which people have interpreted as a good basis for both the WGA and the SAG deal. SAG is sending the message that they won't just accept the Director's Guild residual payment model.

This reminds all of us here in Hollywood that SAG is going to fight, just as the WGA has, and though optimism is rumored from the Starbucks to the studio lots, no one should hold their breath. The Screen Actors contract expires at the end of June, and if the Writers Strike lasts until then, and SAG goes on strike, it would be a real disaster for the industry.

Questions? Comments? MediaMoney@cnbc.com

  • Working from Los Angeles, Boorstin is CNBC's media and entertainment reporter and editor of CNBC.com's Media Money section.