A day after Hollywood’s writers went out on strike, the major studios are hitting back with plans to suspend scores of long-term deals with television production companies, jeopardizing the jobs of hundreds of rank-and-file employees whose names never appear in the credits.
Assistants, development executives and production managers will soon be out of work, joining their better-paid bosses who opted to sacrifice paychecks as members of the Writers Guild of America. At some studios, the first wave of letters are going out today, hitting writer-producers whose companies don’t currently have shows in production.
“Anyone who’s not working on pilots or shows is going to get suspension letters,” said one top studio executive.
That the studios are unleashing these rapid suspension notices so early into the strike underscores just how hostile their relationship has become with the writers who supply them with a steady stream of TV programs.
Now, in addition to having writers going without pay, many other entertainment industry employees will have to worry about their car payments and rent. That is likely to have a broad impact beyond Tinseltown, rippling across the Los Angeles region’s entire economy.
The Writers Guild, whose 10,000 members began picketing Monday morning, decried the studios’ tactic. “This is an industry based on talent, and to break relations with the most talented people in town is not a very good business plan,” said Jeff Hermanson, assistant executive director for Writers Guild of America, West.
These suspensions stop payments to production companies that are largely bankrolled by studios, which count on them to come up with the next “Grey’s Anatomy” or “House.” Under multi-year deals, studios such as Warner Bros., Walt Disney Co., and 20th Century Fox pay for the salaries, the office space, the project development costs, even the utilities whether these entities generate hits or not. Producers and writers typically serve as creative heads of these companies, which vary in size from a handful of employees to hundreds, most of whom do not belong to the WGA.
The major studios that have issued or are planning suspensions include Fox, CBS Paramount, Disney, Warner Bros. and NBC Universal. Sony has yet to act, two people familiar with the issue said. Not all production companies financed by the studios will be cut off. The most prolific ones, run by such high-profile figures as David E. Kelley (“Boston Legal,” “The Practice”) and John Wells (“ER”), are unlikely to be touched, according to studio executives.
[Check it Out: LA Times]