Studios kill writers' contracts

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One of the best parts of the year for television enthusiasts is the announcement of the many pilots given the green light by studios in anticipation of the next television season. Even though not all of the fledgling programs make it to air, the news always makes for good time-wasting as each season is met with not only some decent ideas, but also a slate of what-were-they-thinking? proposals.

Unfortunately, the latest news out of Hollywood indicates that this typically jovial period may not happen at all. With both sides--the Writers Guild of America (WGA) and Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers (AMPTP)--still very much at odds over the current writers' strike, the studios have opted to terminate several development and first-look deals with writers, putting the next television season in jeopardy.

CBS Paramount Network Television, NBC Universal, Warner Bros. Television, and 20th Century Fox Television all ended several writers' contracts on Monday, according to The Los Angeles Times. On Friday, ABC Studios lead the charge with the first round of cuts.

The thinking of the executives at the studios is this: With the strike looking more and more like it will extend into spring, there is no reason to pay writers and their staff for developing a show that isn't going to happen--may as well just cut ties right now and save money. The studios aren't doing anything underhanded; under the agreements, it is stipulated that studios can terminate deals at anytime in the event of a strike. The deals are said to be worth approximately $500,000 to $2 million apiece and the move will likely save the studios tens of millions of dollars.

"The duration of the WGA strike has significantly affected our ongoing business," NBC Universal said in a statement to The Times. "Regretfully, due to these changes business circumstances, we've had to end some writer/producer deals."

The number of deals ended isn't clear, with estimates bottoming out at 60 and as high as "nearly 75," according to Variety. The trade says that most big-name showrunners are still under contract, but several lesser (but still well-known) producers such as Barbara Hall (Joan of Arcadia) and Barry Schindel (Numbers) are out, effectively making them free agents. Variety also says that the main targets were writers who had less than a year left on their contract, were working on a show that had been canceled or would probably be canceled, or weren't currently working on a big show.

Among those reported to have their contracts terminated are Jonathan Lisco (K-Ville), Hugh Jackman (Viva Laughlin), and Kevin Falls (Journeyman).

Of course, these terminations could eventually backfire on the studios. Should a deal between the WGA and AMPTP be reached sooner than expected, industry insiders believe there would be a "free-for-all" to rope in producers let go by other studios.

For more on the writers' strike, check out TV.com's Strike Source, featuring up-to-date statuses on shows, the latest information, and more.

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