NEW VOLLEY IN WRITERS' STRIKE

The Alliance of Motion Picture & Television Producers claimed Friday that the eight-week-old strike by members of the Writers Guild of America has already cost the writers more than what the guild has asked for in negotiations. The guild has calculated that its demands for increased residuals from Internet distribution of programs and movies will cost the industry $151.2 million over three years. In a statement, the AMPTP said, "The strike continues because the union's leaders are focused on jurisdictional issues that would expand their own power, at the expense of the new media issues that working writers care most about." The studios and networks have insisted that the WGA remove their insistence on representing writers of animated and reality fare before they will resume negotiations. The WGA responded: "The media conglomerates know that the core issue in these negotiations is new media. Their current proposals would cause writers even more economic harm in the future than they claim this strike has caused."

CONTROVERSY ROARS OVER WGA-LETTERMAN DEAL

Following a deal that appeared to raise more questions than it answered, David Letterman's production company and the Writers Guild of America said Friday that Letterman's Late Show will be able to return to the air on Wednesday with its original writers and that Craig Ferguson's Late, Late Show will be allowed to do the same. Both shows are produced by Letterman's Worldwide Pants company. According to news reports, negotiators for Letterman agreed to accept proposals presented by the WGA to the AMPTP before negotiations broke down, including a new residual formula for Internet replay of his programs. Precise terms were not disclosed. But questions immediately arose as to how residual payments will be calculated given the fact that the two programs, while produced independently, are distributed and sold on the Internet by CBS. For its part, CBS said, "CBS controls the Internet exploitation rights for both programs, and will comply with any eventual negotiated agreement between the AMPTP and the WGA" -- a statement apparently meant to imply that the writers have gained nothing from the deal. On the other hand, news reports suggested that the deal will put extraordinary pressure on NBC and ABC to settle the strike since Letterman will now have the advantage of not only being able to present his shows with a full complement of writers but also will be able to attract celebrities who may be reluctant to appear on programs that remain struck. There was no suggestion that CBS would decline to broadcast the new Letterman shows. (Oddly, Daily Variety's online report about the WGA-Letterman deal was datelined Baghdad.)

BIG AUDIENCE FOR SATURDAY'S NFL GAME -- BUT NOT THAT BIG

Saturday's simulcast of the New York Giants/New England Patriots football game attracted a total of 34.5 million viewers over all of the networks and local stations that carried it -- the most to watch a regular-season NFL game since 1995, according to Nielsen Research. The Nov. 23, 1995 game between the Kansas City Chiefs and the Dallas Cowboys game averaged 35.7 million viewers. Nevertheless, with some analysts predicting Super Bowl-like audience figures for the game, which put the Patriots' perfect-season record on the line, Saturday's number was actually somewhat disappointing. "Let's put that number in perspective," wrote New York Times TV sports columnist Richard Sandomir. "It required six channels in prime time to surpass the 33.8 million who watched the Nov. 4 Patriots-Colts afternoon game on CBS." (Sandomir strongly criticized Bryant Gumbel's play-by-play commentary.)

Brian B. at Movieweb
Brian B.