STRUCK DUMB: LEAN AND MEAN: The Hollywood writers’ strike moves more steadily to something like a resolution with the news that the Writers Guild of America has called for membership meetings in New York and Los Angeles with its members this Saturday, ostensibly to present the terms of a deal to the rank and file.

A Boston Herald article on the news presents it in the light of current conventional wisdom: last month’s Director’s Guild of America deal went a long way to re-starting negotiations, the writers will be getting “significant increases in the residuals ... for online use of movies and TV shows,” and the whole thing has been given a sense of urgency by the imminent Oscars, which no one wants to see scuttled the way the Golden Globes were last month.

There’s even the usual gross oversimplification of the situation and pitiful plea for attention from director Michael Moore, whose underperforming documentary Sicko is up for an Oscar it won’t get. Moore told the Herald that the studios had “shut the town down over a couple pennies,” and mused that he might start a “penny drive” to raise money for writers, from contributions by viewers who want to see their favorite shows return. Yeah, that’s going to happen.


One of the more unusual stray – and rare – bits of production news from the networks this week was NBC’s order of six episodes of Kath And Kim, a new series starring Selma Blair and Molly Shannon. An adaptation of an Australian sitcom, it was presumed dead at NBC after Ben Silverman’s Reveille Pictures had pitched it to the network last year, but seems to have been revived with Silverman’s rise to head of entertainment at NBC.

The weird thing is that the show is being put into production without a pilot – the usual way things are done in the business. It might be a harbinger of things to come, according to a story in the Los Angeles Times yesterday predicting a drastic belt-tightening that will change the way networks develop new shows, as the big four have suggested that they won’t be ordering scores of scripts for pilots from writers anymore. Only a fraction of the scripts would be filmed, and even fewer would air, and the networks are apparently finally listening to their accountants, who said for years that this is a great way to blow money, if nothing else.

“The welfare system is hereby over,” one screenwriter told the Times, under conditions of anonymity. At between US$75,000 and $125,000 per script for even junior writers, this created an economic cushion for writers that’s apparently gone bye-bye. It seems that the studios and networks are willing to take bigger risks to save money, which will inevitably mean more Monday morning firings and dead men walking to the parking lot with security escorts when the gambles turn up snake eyes and someone needs to be blamed. Since my self-interest is tied up having ugly news to report from the glass-walled corridors of the business, it’s nothing but good news.

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