Force Majeure Terminations Hit Hollywood

A wave of terminations has swept through Hollywood since last Friday, as the contracts of nearly 75 TV writers and producer (and their staffs) were canceled under force majeure provisions. It started on Friday, when ABC Studios terminated more than two dozen deals, including those of Curb Your Enthusiasm helmer Larry Charles and Brothers & Sisters creator/executive producer Jon Robin Baitz, who has recently blasted ABC in a series of blog entries on The Huffington Post.

A second round of terminations were announced on Monday, as Warner Bros. TV, CBS Paramount Network TV, Universal Media Studios, and 20th Century Fox TV slashed the deals of another 45-50 TV writers and producers. Among the more recent casualties are Paul Redford and Kevin Falls (Journeyman), Larry Kaplow (K-Ville), Rene Echevarria (Medium), Barbara Hall (Joan of Arcadia), Barry Schindel (Numb3rs), and Hugh Jackman’s production company, which recently delivered bomb Viva Laughlin.

Force majeure–or “act of God”–provisions in the contracts allow studios to terminate deals with writers and producers four to six weeks into a work stoppage. By eliminating the deals now, the studios will no longer be obligated to pay the writers even if the strike ends tomorrow. It’s a way for the studios to eliminate some of what they may consider “dead weight” by getting out of costly contracts that they’re no longer interested in maintaining. The timing of the terminations could simply be the result of belt-tightening by the studios, or it could be a sign that the AMPTP is close to making  a deal with the DGA–a deal that could mean that the end of this strike is just around the corner.

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2 thoughts on “Force Majeure Terminations Hit Hollywood

  1. It’s a way for the studios to eliminate some of what they may consider “dead weight” by getting out of costly contracts that they’re no longer interested in maintaining.

    Actually, ABC wasn’t so discriminating with the deals they cut. They apparently want to get away from the business model of having overall deals, so they pretty much cut everyone who doesn’t have something in production, not just “dead weight” which is what I thought they were going to do.

    I’ve also heard that some of the studios are hoping that some high profile showrunners who don’t currently have shows on the air might have been working on pilots during the strike that the networks can just buy after the strike is over.

    What I’m interested in is whether the fact that “American Idols” ratings were down compared to their premiere last year has any of the networks a little worried. Because the thought was AI would just do boffo numbers since there’s not a whole lot else to watch on tv at the moment. Instead, ratings are down from this time last year. Which makes me think more and more people aren’t watching television, and the longer this strike goes on, the more eyeballs they are going to lose.

    The studios may be cutting of their nose to spit their own face with eliminating so many of their deals. I guess time will tell.

  2. I certainly am a lost set of eyeballs. If not for Mythbusters and Ninja Warrior, I’d probably not even watch the TV at all now that we are between seasons on Doctor Who. I drop in for the odd episode of How I Met Your Mother (when Sus watches it), but other than that, other content now occupies the time I formerly set aside for TV watching. And, as Sus would be quick to point out, I have been on that trend for years – long before the strike, which has just exacerbated things.

    Honestly, I look forward to the day when I can get everything on demand. That would also lessen the sting of loved-but-sporadically-produced shows like Venture Bros. I wonder if the networks will figure this out, and go after the market, or if they will take the MPAA/RIAA approach and simply miss the boat and let others fill the void and make money.

    I had hopes that the strike would end with a new age of higher-quality programs that I would want to watch. Maybe that can still happen, and the force majeure move is the first step. Or maybe it is just the first step to the producers collaborating with DGA to screw over the writers; that seems more likely. As Sus has pointed out, once the DGA cuts a deal, the writers pretty much have to go along. That stinks for them. 😦

    From the DGA’s standpoint that is probably an unintended side effect, but I cannot help but think that the AMPTP has had this in the cards for a long time (and that they even planned their last round of contracts so that the writers would expire first, leaving them as suppliants to whatever deal the DGA cuts).

    That’s certainly how I would do it if I were the AMPTP. It’s what I do with vendor contract negotiations where I work. It is highly effective, too. By negotiating with the weaker groups first, each group has to bargain independently and cannot build a strong coalition of support. You end up giving in to fewer demands.

    Fair? not really. Good business practice? For me, sure. It is just IT vendors. For the AMPTP? Probably it works well in the short term. Like B, though, I wonder how effective it really will be in the longer term. Reality shows are clearly not the savior that the AMPTP hoped they would be, and the time pressures of the medium demand that the studios produce content quickly (and the window for getting that done gets smaller for every day the strike goes on).

    It would be ironic if a lot of marginal-to-decent shows got cut only to be replaced by hastily-negotiated replacements of even lower quality. Sadly, that seems kind of likely. Anyone want to make a slap-bet about it?

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