The head of DreamWorks Animation tried and failed to broker a compromise last week between striking writers and the media companies. Nikki Finke has all the details, reporting that Katzenberg met with 30 to 40 TV showrunners who were questioning the WGA's strategy, which some believe has been unnecessarily hard line. He's concerned that if the writers don't cut a deal before the Directors Guild begins its contact talks next month, the WGA will become marginalized (he reportedly likened it to the 1988 strike, when a number of union members went back to work). Picking up Finke's account of what happened after the meeting with showrunners:
Then Katzenberg went to Barry Meyer, the Warner Bros chairman/CEO considered a hardliner among the moguls, and told him that this clique of showrunners were ready to go to their leadership and tell them to focus only on New Media issues if the talks re-started. But the moguls needed to go back into negotiations without any conditions so that ultimatum had to be taken off the table. "Jeffrey told Barry, 'I'm confident we will get a deal done if you go back in the room with the WGA now,'" an insider confided. But Meyer, obviously speaking for the rest of the CEOs, refused. Now those dissident showrunners, I'm told, feel really burned. "They totally understood now what the negotiating committee has been through for the past six months and were very apologetic that they had questioned leadership up until now. 'Sheepish' was the word I heard used," one influential WGA insider tells me.
You might recall that during the 2001 contract talks, Katzenberg spent months shuttling between studio bosses and union officials in search of a deal. His diplomacy was quite a contrast to 1988, when he was a Disney executive and largely bypassed the union. "The problem is, for all his earnest visibility, Katzenberg needs consensus in the fractious industry. Unlike automakers, which negotiate independently with unions, studios must hammer out an industrywide settlement," I wrote in Forbes in April 2001 (the more things change...) That time, a strike was averted. By the way, Finke is convinced that the media companies are settling in for the duration, prepared to not only to write off the rest of the season, but the pilot season and the 2008/2009 schedule. This seems unlikely - just look at the plummeting price of CBS stock, and we're not even into 2008. Do you think shareholders will be as willing as the moguls to stay the course for months on end, no matter what the consequences?