IATSE CHIEF CASTIGATES WGA LEADERS

The head of the entertainment industry's largest union has issued a blistering attack against the leaders of the Writers Guild of America, accusing them of embarking on a course last year that made a strike inevitable. Thomas Short, president of the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees (IATSE), accused WGA West President Patric Verrone of deliberately delaying talks with the Association of Motion Picture and TV Producers (AMPTP) until the last moment. "When I phoned you on Nov. 28, 2006, to ask you to reconsider the timing of negotiations, you refused," Short said in a letter to Verrone. "It now seems that you were intending that there be a strike no matter what you were offered, or what conditions the industry faced when your contract expired at the end of October." The result, he said, has been the loss of jobs for thousands of members of IATSE and other unions. "The IATSE alone has over 50,000 members working in motion picture, television and broadcasting and tens of thousands more are losing jobs in related fields." Short concluded that it was "time to put egos aside" and return to the negotiating table and predicted "irreversible damage" to the industry if negotiations do not resume. Verrone issued a brief letter in response cryptically noting that IATSE members receive five times more in contributions to their health fund from the studios than do writers, and then added, "To put it simply, our fight should be your fight." He then insisted that the WGA is "willing to negotiate" and that it was the AMPTP that walked out of the negotiations. "So please help us by doing everything you can to get the AMPTP to come back to the table and settle this strike." However, in a statement in Washington later in the day, Verrone placed a condition on returning to the negotiating table, insisting that he would do so "as soon as the companies make it clear that they are willing to respond to the issues that are important to the association, leading with new media." The AMPTP has maintained that it had presented a package dealing with new media for the WGA negotiators to consider when the WGA abruptly went on strike. In reporting on the exchange, Daily Variety observed today (Thursday) that it represented "the latest outburst in a long line of hostilities between the [two] unions."

TV VIEWERS SIDE WITH STRIKERS BUT TAKE HO-HUM VIEW OF STRIKE

While 84 percent of Americans are aware of the current writers' strike against the movie studios and TV networks, 75 percent say that they are "not very concerned" or "not concerned at all" about how it will affect their TV viewing, according to a study conducted by Pepperdine University in Malibu, CA and reported today (Thursday) in the Washington Post. The study said that if the networks begin running reruns after new episodes run out, they'll watch reruns; 42 percent said they'll read more. Younger people said they would spend more time renting movies or playing video games. Nevertheless, only 4 percent of those surveyed said that they side with the producers in the current strike. In a statement, WGA West President Patric Verrone said that such polls "prove that the public understands what is at stake here. Our fight represents the fight of all American workers for a fair deal."

SPONGEBOB SOAKS UP RATINGS

If Nickelodeon channel's SpongeBob SquarePants movie had aired on a broadcast network Monday night, it would have come in in second place in the ratings only to ABC's blockbuster Dancing With the Stars. The special, titled "SpongeBob Atlantis SquarePantis," attracted nine million viewers according to the kids channel. Over at the broadcast networks, ABC's Dancing With the Stars drew a whopping 21.80 million viewers, but second-place CBS drew 8.58 million with How I Met Your Mother, slightly below SpongeBob's audience of nine million. It was the Viacom-owned channel's biggest audience of the year, the channel said.

CABLE CHIEF RAILS AGAINST FCC CHAIRMAN

National Cable and Telecommunications Association chief Kyle McSlarrow accused FCC Chairman Kevin Martin Wednesday of "manipulating" statistics in an effort to bring the cable industry under greater regulatory control. "The FCC is broken," McSlarrow charged at a news conference in Washington. While particularly attacking Martin's effort to impose "a la carte" pricing on cable operators, McSlarrow added, "When you look at the kind of proposals, from a la carte, to the imposition of additional must-carry obligations, to technology mandates, to decisions that literally cost consumers more and raise their rates, to decisions that favor one industry over another ... it's very clear that what this is all about is pursuing one particular agenda item -- a la carte -- and using the rest of these proposals to pressure our industry to do voluntarily what the FCC does not have authority to mandate." He vowed to fight, saying, "We're not going to fundamentally wreck a business model and hurt our customers to appease one chairman of the FCC." Martin responded, "Our focus is not on the welfare of a particular industry but the welfare of consumers and ensuring they receive the benefits of competition in the form of lower prices, more choice and better services."

Brian B.