Writers strike is over: The overwhelming vote to return to work ends a walkout that lasted more than three months and played havoc with network programming. Even with the writers back, there's still uncertainty over what shows will return this season, which ones will be pushed back to the fall, and which ones will just be dropped. One show that won't be impacted: The Academy Awards, on Feb. 24. (Variety)
Now for the actors: Ben Affleck, Sally Field, Teri Hatcher and Charlie Sheen are among those who want to impose an earnings requirement for Screen Actors Guild members who take strike authorization votes. No recommendation is made on what the earnings threshold should be, but a petition signed by 800 actors notes that less than 20 percent of SAG members earn at least $7,500 annually. (Unlike the WGA, which has tough requirements for membership, SAG lets in practically anybody who has appeared on screen.) From Variety:
The two-week-old petition, circulated by 23-year SAG member Ned Vaughn, asserted that the clout of working actors to decide on SAG contracts has been diluted because of the preponderance of nonworking thesps in the guild. "The challenging reality is that two-thirds of SAG's 120,000 members consistently earn less than $1,000 per year as SAG actors, and only one in five SAG members earns even $7,500 annually. But anyone holding a SAG card can vote on our major contracts," the petition adds. "Not only is this unsettling ... it's dangerous. There's a good reason virtually every union in the country -- including the WGA, DGA and Actors' Equity -- requires work experience to vote on contracts: because doing otherwise weakens a union's position."
Blue Cross drops letters: Those were the letters that asked physicians to look for medical conditions that could be used to cancel patients' insurance coverage. As you might expect, the practice was denounced by everybody from Gov. Arnold to Sen. Hillary. Blue Cross said the intent of the letters was being misinterpreted (as many as 1,000 letters a month for years). From the LAT, which has been providing stellar coverage of these outrageous insurance practices:
Blue Cross sent physicians copies of insurance applications filled out by new patients, along with the letter advising them the company had a right to drop members who failed to disclose "material medical history." That could include "preexisting pregnancies." The letter asked physicians to "immediately" report any discrepancies between their patients' medical condition and the information in the applications.
California insurers, including Blue Cross, are under fire for issuing individual policies without checking applications and then canceling them after patients get sick. The practice, known in the industry as rescission, is under scrutiny by state regulators, lawmakers and the courts. In scores of lawsuits, patients contend that the insurers dropped them over honest mistakes and minor inconsistencies on applications that they allege are purposely confusing. People ailing with cancer or other diseases often are unable to get new coverage once their insurance has been rescinded, and they may go without treatment. Swamped with medical debt, people have lost homes and businesses. Insurers say the cancellations are an important weapon against fraud and occur rarely.
Coliseum, USC reach deal: So much for the Pasadena Trojans. The tentative lease deal would keep USC at the beaten-up but historic stadium for the next 25 years. The Coliseum Commission will vote today on a nonbinding letter of intent. The deal calls for major improvements, which would be funded with the sale of stadium naming rights. Zell-rena? (LAT, Daily News)
Changes at Quiksilver: The departure of Bernard Mariette as president was not a huge surprise. The OC-based surf-apparel company had gotten bogged down as a result of its purchase several years back of Rossignol, the maker of skis, snowboards and winter gear. Mariette had pushed the acquisition after meeting the owner of the company while skiing in the French Alps. As part of the shakeup, Robert McKnight Jr. becomes president, as well as chairman and CEO. There also was speculation that Mariette might try to buy Rossignol. (LAT)
MySpace launches incubator: The online social network now owned by News Corp. (and based in Bev Hills) is starting something called SlingShot Labs. Both Rupert Murdoch and MySpace CEO Chris DeWolfe will be watching over the project, which News Corp. has seeded with $15 million. From BW:
SlingShot is seen as a way for MySpace to keep looking down the online media road and be able to pounce quickly on opportunities, says DeWolfe as he downs cappuccinos and a Red Bull during a recent interview at a San Francisco restaurant. Two longtime MySpace lieutenants, Josh Berman and Colin Digiaro, will run SlingShot as co-presidents. SlingShot employees—10 new hires have signed on so far—will receive equity in the startups. The incubator also satisfies a craving of DeWolfe's. "This is my baby, my idea, and something I've wanted to do for a long time," he says. (Along with MySpace co-founder Tom Anderson, he signed a new two-year contract worth millions in October.)
Buying into Hollywood sign?: Close to it anyway. A Chicago investment group has put 138 acres surrounding the L.A. landmark up for sale. The parcel, known as Cahuenga Peak, is being priced at $22-million (it's zoned for five luxury homes). The listing is already generating all kinds of complaints, as you might expect. Fox River Financial Resources acquired the mountaintop in 2002 from the estate of Howard Hughes for $1.7 million. Hughes had bought it in 1940. From the LAT:
For the last several years city leaders have scrambled to raise money to buy the ridge property from Fox River and turn it into an extension of Griffith Park. So far, they've accumulated about $5 million. The city had intended to ask the nonprofit Trust for Public Land to negotiate a selling price with the Chicago owners. Two months ago, a city-commissioned appraisal calculated that the mountaintop was worth about $6 million.