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Writers stuck on the disc issue

A DVD

TEXT OF INTERVIEW

Bob Moon; Brace yourself for a lot more reruns. Negotiators for TV and movie screenwriters are now officially recommending a strike, and union leaders will meet today to figure out the next steps. Producers say they're still prepared to keep talking this weekend to reach a new deal.

Marketplace contributor and Daily Variety executive editor Michael Speier has been watching some of the primary sticking points develop.

Michael Speier: There are a lot of issues, but the most important one that just reared its ugly head again is the DVD issue. And that's the residuals that the writers, 20 years ago, in 1985, signed this big deal where they got about 4 cents per disc. That's on average. They want that doubled. And it doesn't sound like a lot to the average person, but of course the studios, the networks, claim that DVD residuals are the golden child, and that's what keeps them afloat.

Moon: Now initially, when the writers settled on how much of a cut they got for DVDs, did they give the studios a break a little bit for emerging technology?

Speier: They'll claim they did, they'll say that they wanted everyone to survive, and so that that was the deal. And back then, it was news, so they didn't know what DVDs were gonna mean. That leads into the second issue this time, which is Internet revenues. And nobody knows what that means. So the entertainment people and the people who create and the people who produce are no different. They want to know how to monetize it. And the producers, of course, think that its their product, and the creators -- which is the writers in this case -- think its their product.

Moon: What are the shows that are most likely to be hit by a writers' strike?

Speier: There are a couple of things you see instantly -- and TV, by the way, is the thing that will take the biggest hit immediately. Because, well, when you watch Jay Leno and David Letterman, it's actually only half guests. I mean, the first half of the show is scripted comedy. All those writers are gonna go away, so it's either gonna be bad, bad comedy or lots of guests. The second thing that'll be hit is anything that's on the bubble -- any show that doesn't have great ratings, they don't want that headache now and they'll probably just get rid of the show altogether.

Moon: How serious could this be for the industry?

Speier: It can cripple an industry. You can go with repeats for so long, you can go with stored-up script for so long. But after that, you're gonna have all your new shows, it can cripple the fall season next year. Film-wise, I don't think the average person would see a big change, because a lot of movies are in production now, and a lot will keep going.

Moon: Do studios want to hold the line here because they might have to pay more residuals to some of the other players?

Speier: Yeah -- I mean, they, once you capitulate, you know, then the actors could then say hey, now it's our turn, and hey, we have a good shot because they gave into the writers. So, nobody wants this headache, everyone wants to go one with their work. And this is Hollywood, so it's based on money and ego and big houses, and nobody wants to give those up.

Moon: There's no business like show business.

Speier: Not at all.

Moon: Michael Speier, executive editor of Daily Variety. Thanks for joining us.

Speier: My pleasure.

About the author

Bob Moon is Marketplace’s senior business correspondent, based in Los Angeles.
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