You may have heard this news, which broke yesterday afternoon, but the Writers Guild of America is going to head with Ozzy Osbourne‘s new FOX variety show, The Osbournes: Loud and Dangerous, for refusing to pay its writers standard wages or agree to a union contract. Yesterday afternoon, WGA presidents Michael Winship and Patric Verrone sent the following email to Guild membership…
To Our Fellow Members,
Last week, you may have become aware of our ongoing dispute with Tyler Perry’s production companies, which fired four writers because of their efforts to organize Perry’s series, House of Payne. Pickets were up at his new studio’s grand opening Saturday night in Atlanta.
Now, we write to inform you of another labor dispute.
Fox has ordered a primetime comedy-variety show featuring Ozzy Osbourne and his family, and has engaged FremantleMedia North America, the company behind American Idol, to produce it. Because they wanted to hire WGA members to write the show, Fremantle contacted the WGAW to see if we would agree to a sub-standard contract. Attempting to pay as little as possible to the writers on the show, Fremantle asked to treat it as “half-scripted” and pay greatly reduced writing fees to those writers who wrote skits, interview material, intros, and “outros.” Although all of the writing on the show is of a type traditionally covered by our MBA (in such shows as The Carol Burnett Show and Laugh-In), Fremantle wanted to treat certain portions of the show as “reality content,” not cover the writers who create it, and lower the compensation of the WGA-covered writers, arguing that they would only be responsible for writing part of the show.
We refused to agree to such a deal because it would drastically undermine hard-won minimums and standards. While we have covered some shows produced by Fremantle, they insist that other shows, including American Idol, The Price is Right, and Million Dollar Password, do not have writers and should not be covered by a WGA contract.
Now it is clear that Fremantle’s intention is to bring their low cost, non-union business model into traditional genres – first game shows, then comedy-variety. Soon, no WGA-covered writing will be safe from their aggressive undermining of our contract. We cannot allow this encroachment to continue.
Accordingly, WGA East and West members may not write for the Osbourne variety show (working title: The Osbournes: Loud and Dangerous). Any members who perform writing services on that show do so at their own peril as they will be violating WGA Working Rule 8 and could be fined up to 100% of their compensation for that work. Both Guilds notified agents and other representatives of this development through an Action Alert issued yesterday.
The alert also reminded agents that they cannot send clients who are members of either Guild to write for Tyler Perry’s production companies. The WGAW has filed unfair labor practice charges based on the unlawful discharge of the House of Payne writers and continuing bad faith bargaining. Members who accept these jobs will also be in violation of Working Rule 8.
We believe that denying Fremantle and Tyler Perry members of the Writers Guilds East and West may convince them that they will be unable to produce professional quality entertainment content and that they will see the wisdom and creative advantages of signing a WGA contract.
There is already far too much writing done in our business by men and women without WGA benefits. We cannot let writers of sitcoms and comedy-variety programming join their ranks, as we also work to reduce the amount of animation, reality, nonfiction, and other so-called “non-scripted” writing not covered by a WGA contract.
Thanks for your attention and your continued support.
Patric M. Verrone