Writers’ Strike Jeopardizes Critics Tour

12/07/2007 7:00 PM Eastern

The biggest cliffhanger in Hollywood remains how long the writers’ strike will drag on — and how that will impact the TV industry.

The strike was slated to kick off its sixth week today, Dec. 10. If it hasn’t ended by this Friday, Dec. 14, it will claim a new casualty: The Television Critics Association press tour in January.

The tour, where TV networks preview their new shows for critics, will be cancelled if the studios and writers haven’t reached an accord by then, according to tour organizers.

Another casualty soon could be the bottom line. If the strike goes past Christmas, it will start cutting into the profits of broadcast-network owners such as CBS, The Walt Disney Co. and News Corp., a Wall Street analyst said.

As of press time, the Writers Guild of America and the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers were at the bargaining table for their fourth day last week.

The WGA submitted a new proposal with a tiered compensation formula — based on viewing — for the online streaming of TV shows.

Last week, both sides in the strike made strategic moves. After several polls found the public was siding with the WGA, the AMPTP hired two high-powered public-relations guns: Mark Fabiani and Chris Lehane, who have been advisers to President Clinton and Al Gore.

Also, the TV writers implored the Directors Guild of America not to start its contract talks for its deal with the AMPTP, which expires June 30, “at this crucial time” when the WGA is engaged in its talks.

Meanwhile, CBS CEO Les Moonves and NBC Universal CEO Jeff Zucker downplayed the strike’s impact on their broadcast networks.

Moonves said CBS had original programming for February, and that it will also air programs from Showtime, its premium cable network. Edited versions of Dexter and Weeds are possible candidates.

Zucker said the strike was not seriously affecting NBC right now. But Natixis Bleichroeder analyst Alan Gould issued a report that said he may be forced to cut his earnings projections for CBS, Disney and News Corp. if the strike lasts past the holidays.

“The Street has to be prepared for the strike potentially going on into 2008 — past Christmas — and if the strike goes on into January and February, it’s certainly going to start impacting the profitability on the TV-network side,” Gould said in an interview.

Mike Farrell contributed to this report.

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