Strikers force Hollywood deal wind-down

The writers' strike continues to take its toll on the ones who haven't yet made millions of dollars for their employers.

On Friday, ABC Studios exercised its force majeure privilege and terminated the contracts of more than two dozen writing and non-writing producers who had development deals with the Walt Disney Co.-owned outfit, becoming the first major player to move out of the just-suspended stage and cut ties completely.

"The ongoing strike has had a significant detrimental impact on development and production so we are forced to make the difficult decision to release a number of talented, respected individuals from their development deals," ABC Studios said in a statement late Friday.

Among the ABC casualties were Curb Your Enthusiasm executive producer and Borat director Larry Charles, Scrubs' Bill Callahan, That 70s Show's Joshua Sternin and Jeffrey Ventimilia, Gone Baby Gone's Sean Bailey and Private Practice star Taye Diggs, who's still on the show but saw his production deal get axed.

The force majeure clause in contracts with actors, writers, producers, etc. allowed the studios to suspend deals for a certain number of weeks and pay only a portion of their salaries almost immediately after the writers' strike took effect Nov. 5.

Under the same provision, the studios are also supposed to rehire the fired scribes under the terms of their original deal once production recommences on their respective projects.

According to trade reports, Warner Bros. Television is expected to follow ABC's lead and scrap five or six deals next week, sure to be followed by other studios.

NBC parent Universal Media Studios and Sony Pictures TV suspended a number of Screen Actors Guild members' contracts in November, less than two weeks after the strike began, with Universal opting to halve salaries and Sony choosing to quit paying altogether.

The Writers Guild of America has yet to comment on the latest cost-cutting maneuver.

The reality hit home on the same day the Directors Guild of America announced that contract negotiations between the union and the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers will kick off Saturday, with hopes to avoid the vitriol that characterized the alliance's sit-downs with the WGA and arrive at a mutually beneficial new deal.

The DGA's current agreement expires June 30, as does SAG's, which has thrown its support behind the striking scribes.

"We wish the DGA well and hope that they achieve a fair deal that incorporates principles that will benefit all creative artists," read a joint statement from the WGA and SAG. "The DGA has to do what is best for its membership, but it is important to remember that they do not represent actors and writers."

Both the DGA and the AMPTP have agreed not to talk to the press during negotiations, according to a statement released by the alliance.


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