[9 January 2008]
LOS ANGELES—A drastically scaled-back Golden Globes raises the question of whether the Writers Guild of America strike will hit Hollywood’s showpiece awards event, the Oscars.
And the answer is: most likely, unless the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences can work out an agreement with the guild ahead of time.
The solidarity displayed in helping to cut the Golden Globes from an awards party to a much briefer news conference is likely to have some effect on the Feb. 24 Oscar ceremony, unless the academy strikes a deal. NBC cut back on its Golden Globes telecast when it became clear that virtually all the nominees would not cross WGA picket lines to attend.
“It’s likely they won’t go on, or they won’t go on and be televised,” Bonnie Garvin, spokeswoman for the guild, said of the Oscar telecast. Guild officials say that they have not received a request from the academy for a waiver.
Officials from the academy did not immediately return phone calls.
If the Oscars do not go on as planned, it could have a disastrous effect on Walt Disney Co.‘s ABC Television Network, which broadcasts the awards show and takes in millions of dollars in ad revenue from the telecast. Disney officials say they remain united with the bargaining unit for the major studios, the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers.
The Oscars are a commercial bonanza for ABC, with individual spots going for more than $1 million. Though ratings have been down in recent years, the show still captures roughly 40 million viewers each year. Other than the National Football League’s Super Bowl, the Oscars rate as one of the most highly rated one-time telecasts.
In certain situations, the WGA is not picketing entertainment awards shows when the sponsors of those telecasts have worked out agreements with the guild. No pickets will surround the Jan. 27 telecast of the Screen Actors Guild awards show because that group has shown solidarity with writers.
It is the reluctance of SAG members to cross picket lines at the Globes that played a huge role in cutting into NBC’s plans for the telecast, which was scheduled to air on Sunday.
The AMPTP wouldn’t comment directly on what may happen to the Oscar ceremony, but has urged the guild not to prevent that show from going on. Producers liken such an action to the 1980 Olympics boycott by the United States over the sponsoring nation, the former Soviet Union, and its invasion of Afghanistan that year.
“The boycott did nothing to change the political situation. But it changed the athletes’ lives forever,” the AMPTP says in a statement on the Web site WeWantTheAwards.com.
The academy is free to negotiate with the guild on its own to get an exemption for its telecast, much in the same way that David Letterman’s Worldwide Pants and Tom Cruise’s United Artists have secured deals. Each has negotiated its own deals with the guild, and Letterman’s “Late Show” is back on CBS.
But Jay Leno’s “Tonight Show” and Conan O’Brien’s “Late Night” on NBC have returned to the airwaves without writers, and picket lines have been set up outside the studios where those shows are filmed in Los Angeles and New York, respectively.
Other shows that have returned to the air without writers are “The Daily Show with Jon Stewart” and “The Colbert Report” from Viacom Inc.‘s Comedy Central channel. Also scheduled to return is “Real Time With Bill Maher,” on Time Warner Inc.‘s HBO pay channel.
Writers stopped negotiating with producers last month and both sides have yet to return to the bargaining table.
The academy is a much larger, more-established organization than the Hollywood Foreign Press Association that sponsors the Golden Globes. But one sticking point is that the academy and Disney’s ABC are so closely intertwined when it comes to the awards ceremony that it may require Disney to make a big break from the producers’ alliance.
If no pact can be reached, the same players who are boycotting the Golden Globes could end up not showing up on Oscar night. Since a key attraction for the awards show is actors who show up and the outfits they wear, their absence would cut heavily into ratings.
A much-larger chunk of Golden Globe awards go to actors than is the case for the Oscars, which may mean the guild would have to persuade other crafts to honor picket lines.
“It could test (solidarity),” according to Garvin. “But I think there’s tremendous solidarity within the industry because we all face this problem.”