Writers' strike gags Hollywood awards season

Dashed hopes of an early settlement threatens Golden Globes and Oscars
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Hollywood's awards season is about to go into high gear, but with no guarantee anybody will actually show up.

Several high-profile nominees for the Golden Globes, whose names were announced last week, have come forward to say they intend to sit out the 13 January awards ceremony out of solidarity with the entertainment industrys writers, who have been on strike for the past six weeks.

They include British actors James McAvoy (nominated for Atonement) and Tom Wilkinson (Michael Clayton), as well as Marc Forster, who directed The Kite Runner and Aaron Sorkin, the celebrated television writer nominated for his screenplay for Charlie Wilson's War. "If actors can't have solidarity with writers the people who put the words in their mouths then who can they have solidarity with?" Mr Wilkinson told the Los Angeles Times.

The Hollywood Foreign Press Association, the ragtag association of mostly freelance journalists which runs the Globes, had hoped the strike would be over by mid-January, thus clearing the path for the divas in their finery to step down the red carpet. But those hopes were dashed last week, when the latest round of negotiations between the Writers Guild and the producers' association broke down in acrimony.

Now, the HFPA has to hope the Guild will issue a waiver a special dispensation authorising Guild members and their sympathisers to show up to the Golden Globes, and for Guild members to help write the banter in between award announcements. Such a waiver appears unlikely at this stage.

Even if the show does go on at the Globes, or, a month later, at the Oscars it will still be an only truncated awards season, without much of the usual fanfare or endless rounds of publicity plugs. Prominent actors and directors wont be able to appear on many of the usual television chat-show outlets, for the stark reason that many of those shows Jay Leno's, David Letterman's, and others have been off the air since the very first day of the strike.

That may not entirely displease acting award frontrunners like Julie Christie and Daniel Day Lewis, who are both known for being shy about tooting their own horn in public. But it will give conniptions to the producers and publicists for prestige movies, who usually rely on awards season to give a marketing push to worthy films that desperately need visibility to do well at the box-office.

The strike, which the writers see as being little short of a battle for the future specifically, guaranteeing a fair system of payment for content delivered over the internet and other new media outlets has now reached a point of no return, where hopes of an early settlement have been all but dashed.

The producers could have caved in and pushed for an early settlement, but chose not to last week prompting an official complaint by the writers to the National Labor Relations Board that the producers had violated federal labour law by refusing to negotiate on certain specific issues. The assumption now is that they will try their luck with the Directors Guild first, in contract talks expected to start some time next month. Both the directors and the Screen Actors Guild have contracts up for renewal in June.

The strategy is a huge gamble for the producers, who would ordinarily spend January commissioning pilot episodes of new shows to be aired at the beginning of the autumn season. If those pilots dont get made, it suggests a radical change in the TV landscape for 2008-09, however the strike is settled.

A lengthy dispute is also a big risk for the Writers Guild, whose members might start to break with the leadership or simply walk away from the industry as financial hardship bites. The longer the strike continues, though, the more damage it can do to both network programming and, over time, the quality and quantity of feature film releases. Already several popular shows have screeched to a halt, among them Desperate Housewives and the US version of The Office.