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AMPTP's Chief Negotiator: Writer Talks Over for 'Quite a While'

Writers may be in for a long wait to return to the negotiating table, if the latest verbal volley from Nick Counter is any indication.

In a Q&A conducted on the first day of the writers strike, the president of the Alliance of Motion Picture & Television Producers struck a resolute chord, stating that Sunday night’s negotiation meltdown resulted in a major fracture at the bargaining table and shrugging off progress made on key issues.

“At some point we’ll be back at the negotiating table, but it won’t be for quite a while,” Mr. Counter said.

During the 11th-hour marathon negotiating session, the Writers Guild of America dropped its demand for increased DVD residuals, which the guild considers a major concession.

“We thought we’d be having a serious discussion having dropped [DVD residuals],” said WGA Negotiating Chairman John Bowman. “A lot of writers are very angry that we did that. If they present us with a package we can bargain off of, we’ll be back at the table.”

With saber rattling in the media a key part of the negotiation process, Mr. Counter's latest comments could signal that the networks and studios are settling in for a long siege or simply represent that, at least for the moment, frustrations are running high.


TelevisionWeek: Why did you leave the table last night?
Nick Counter: We didn’t leave. We were in caucus working on additional movement and responses. One of our committee members was on the Internet and saw an announcement that the union was already on strike in New York. We asked if it was true and they said, “Yes.” And we said, “Are you prepared to stop the clock and resume negotiations without a strike?” And they said, “No, we’re on strike.” At that point, negotiations were over.

TVWeek: You knew they were going on strike at midnight. What [during your conversation] made you think that wouldn’t happen?
Mr. Counter: Because we were negotiating. We were trying to find solutions rather than striking.

TVWeek: Less than two weeks ago, when asked how a strike might change your negotiation efforts, you said, “From a negotiating standpoint, we'll continue to negotiate until we reach an agreement irrespective of whether they strike. … They can strike for six months or 12 months or 24 months; at some point we have to reach an agreement. There are no divorces in our industry.” If that’s true, why does it matter whether they’ve gone on strike?
Mr. Counter: Because we’re in the middle of negotiations. We’re trying to work on solutions and they walk out. We’re not going to negotiate with a gun to our heads—that’s just stupid.

TVWeek: Did they indicate to you earlier that evening they would not strike?
Mr. Counter: The understanding is we were negotiating. And until we completed negotiations last night there would be no strike.
[Note: According to Mr. Bowman, the WGA negotiating committee told the AMPTP on Sunday that writers would still strike "unless we made significant progress and saw the outlines of the deal," adding, "What does it matter if New York was out for six more hours? We could have stayed and talked."]

TVWeek: The WGA said they dropped their demands for DVD residuals. How big of a concession was that?
Mr. Counter: None at all, because we would never have agreed to it—$56 million earned last year just for writers alone. And that’s not counting their profit participation.

TVWeek: Was there legitimate progress made last night?
Mr. Counter: We withdrew about 12 of our proposals [out of 35]. We’re down to about 20 on each side. No question, taking off DVD signified an intelligent move on their part. But from a bargaining standpoint, it didn’t matter, because we never would have agreed to it anyway. And now they’re on strike, so it doesn’t matter.

TVWeek:When you say it doesn’t matter now that they’re on strike, are you indicating that you’re unwilling to return to the negotiating table?
Mr. Counter: At some point we’ll be back at the negotiating table, but it won’t be for quite a while. ... From the experience we’ve had, the last strike with the Writers Guild was in 1988 and that lasted five months. The other factor here is the Screen Actors Guild negotiations are coming up next year. So if the writers decide to stay out and use that as leverage, we’re talking nine months.

TVWeek: What’s the advantage in waiting?
Mr. Counter: We’re not waiting for anything. They’re on strike. It’s up to them. We’re not on strike.

TVWeek: So are you saying they have to stop striking to go back to the table?
Mr. Counter: It’s up to them, however they want to handle it. They’re on strike.

TVWeek: There has been lots of talk of back-channel negotiations—how much did that play a factor when you were at the table this weekend?
Mr. Counter: That terminology has been thrown around so it’s hard to deal with it in less-than-concrete terms. There’s always discussions going on.

TVWeek: Some have suggested that yourself and [WGA President] Patric Verrone have so much animosity built up, with different things said in the press, that it inhibits progress.
Mr. Counter: We each have our positions. We support our positions forcefully—that’s all part of negotiations. He’s a professional. I’m a professional. We’re doing our jobs.

Click here for complete coverage of the strike.


Comments (17)

Side-Out:

Before i read this article, i held great sympathy for both sides of this issue. The industry is faced with dwindling profits, a disinfranchised advertising community and a fragmented audience to chase after. The writer's are not allowed to share in the profits of the very entity they created. Everyone is unfairly squeezed.
But this Nick Countrt comes off as a repugnant, first class ass. He has single handedly galvanized me to the side of the writers. It is pitiful that no fair negotiations can possibly be realized with such a pea-brained self-grandizing jerk sitting at this table.
AMPTA- Do us all a favor and find another spokeman- This idiot is poison to any resolution. Go WGA!

La Reina:

It's hard to find any sympathy when two sides of grossly overpaid professionals argue with each other over money while countless other professionals literally pay the price when production is shut down. That said, I do agree that new media is a huge issue and writers must be compensated when their work is used, be it on TV, in film, on DVD, internet downloads, online streaming or webisodes. (Seriously, even most print publishers compensate writers when they reuse their work on the Web!) Anyone else think it's oddly appropriate that the AMPTP spokesman's name is Counter? Counter productive, counter intuitive...counter everything, it seems.

A screenwriter:

This is proof that Nick Counter is a snake and doesn't care about making a deal. He and his bosses want to crush the union and they want to make the WGA the first example. He talks out of both sides of his holes (you know what I mean!) but in the end, says nothing. This is a man not to be trusted. The WGA got back-channel assurances that if the DVD proposal was removed, real bargaining would begin. The back-channelers (John Wells, maybe?) and Nick Counter lied. Like terrorists, you cannot negotiate with liars because they're vipers with a deeper agenda. I support the WGA in its fight and am proud of the support from the Teamsters, SAG and the other unions. As Patrick Verrone said, we're all in this together. FIGHT ON!

Sean:

Wow. It really sucks all my favorite shows are off the air. Now I know who is to blame: the greedy Alliance of Motion Picture & Television Producers. Pay the writers more, because they're the ones that come up with all the creative ideas that make entertainment great.

Hollywood is a bunch of snakes I'm going to play more videogames.

This is the beginning of three strikes (the Directors and the Actors coming up in the next 12 months). As a long time vendor to this industry, we have reached out to other markets in the past year to find enough work to get us through all of this. The other markets (hospitality, military, and others) have welcomed our artistry with open arms. I can tell you (after serving the film/tv industry for over 25 years), that the entertainment business is changing fundamentally.

Impartial Observer:

I like to think of myself as a radical centrist and very open-minded. That said, I'd have to search long and hard to find a more arrogant and less persuasive spokesperson than this Nick Counter. According to him, the WGA did exactly what they said they'd do and began their strike. Then the AMPTV feigned surprise and indignation and are using the fact of the strike to forestall productive negotiations. Why? Counter will only repeat "because they're on strike." What does that have to do with anything? Counter won't say. Because he can't. It would be nice to see some highly-respected grownups like John Wells, Steven Bochco and James Brooks step forward to publicly pressure both sides into talking again.

thom taylor:

Wow - it's shameful what comes out of Counter's mouth, the blatant about-face in Question #3 is pretty telling. My letter to the editor of today's LA Times suggested that Nick Counter be held accountable by the movie studios' shareholders, and should be removed via Wall Street activism if his inability to come to some resolution continues to destroy shareholder value. It's clear it's also going to hurt this town's economy. What's striking in this Q&A above is how he cavalierly cites the 1988 Writers Guild strike as if it somehow showed the resiliency of studios -- when it's estimated that the '88 dispute cost them (and in effect the local economy) some half-a-billion dollars (of course it also ushered in an era of concept-driven amusement-park movies and bad reality television). Studios are in trouble because of bloated overhead, excessive marketing expenditure and bad decision-making, not from the possibility of increasing writers' compensation on DVDs from 4-cents to 8-cents a disc. In every business, employers provide stock options or some other incentives to retain and enrich their employees --Hollywood has to get up-to-date with the 21st Century and do the same. When will it occur to those such "Counter-productive" (I like that post) that it's far better to continue to reach a middle ground than to maintain efforts to bust a union -- as the ABC letter encouraged -- or simply wear them down, as J. Nicholas III suggests above? Mr. Counter: going on strike is not putting a gun to one's head, but refusing to negotiate is tearing the town apart & will leave an ever-bitter legacy for the studios to attract future goodwill.

Miz:

This whole thing is between two sides who want everything, but don't want to give up anything. Nick Counter's job is to give his people the best situation possible, the same way Patric Verrone is trying to do the same for the WGA. If he caves into the writers, then the directors and actors are going smell blood in the water and attack. Yes, there are a lot of new media streams, but they all don't make a profit. Writers believe that anything they create is gold and generates huge amounts of money, but for every series like Lost there are about 10 shows that fail miserably. Who is footed with the bill at that point? The producers. The writers don't care because they got their paychecks. The writers are writers, not accountants. They hear certain numbers thrown out and assume that money should be theirs. There's something called overhead that they don't take that into consideration. And finally, the writers' strike is supposedly going to put Holloywood on edge, but it's been declining because the quality has sucked lately.

Frank Uslan Charlie Kartler:

The AMPTP is like a neglectful parent. The baby (WGA) is coming to them for food, and they're not giving it to them.

If baby wants a bottle, give them a fucking bottle!

Frank Uslan Charlie Kartler:

The AMPTP is like a neglectful parent. The baby (WGA) is coming to them for food, and they're not giving it to them.

If baby wants a bottle, give them a fucking bottle!

dave c:

TVWeek: The WGA said they dropped their demands for DVD residuals. How big of a concession was that?
Mr. Counter: None at all, because we would never have agreed to it—$56 million earned last year just for writers alone. And that’s not counting their profit participation.

$56 million for writers when DVD revenue makes upwards of $20 billion for the studios what an ass

Anon:

I like how he throws a big number around like $56 million to get readers to sympathise with his side. When in actuality all WGA is asking for is a raise from FOUR CENTS a DVD to EIGHT CENTS a DVD.

How about interviewing someone from the WGA to get an even view of the whole situation?

anony:

Well, are the writers ASKING to negotiate more, or are they not even thinking of that, busy out on the streets???

But first and foremost, I would like see EXACTLY how much each writers are making; an average that the "typical" writer gets paid. And then I'd like to compare it to, I don't know, how much nurses,teachers, police personnel, paramedics, and home healthcare workers make. It astounds me how much greed consumes people. I would maybe have wanted to be a writer for TV, but seeing how this industry is organized makes me sick. There is clearly no regard for audience; I would want to write so that my audience gets good quality, enjoyable stories. These people don't appreciate how lucky they are to be being paid for something that is considered a hobby by many.

Cameron:

anony, do you not realize how much risk and effort it takes to become a working writer in Hollywood? In your post you act like they've somehow won the lottery, when for many it's years of sacrifice, and many are in no way rich. Your comparison of the profession to that of nurses, teachers, police, etc... isn't a fair one. I taught school for 5 years and it's a completely different pay situation. For one thing, after paying your dues teaching you get tenure-- meaning it's virtually impossible to be fired. No writer has that kind of security-- even the A listers have to keep churing out hits to keep working. If you want to talk greed, why don't you compare what these studio execs make to those noble professions you listed? I guarantee you the gap will be even more glaring. And this issue has nothing to do with lack of respect for the audience.

Mr. Counter: "Because we’re in the middle of negotiations. We’re trying to work on solutions and they walk out."

No, *you* walked out because they went on strike. Just like they said they would. They were there at the negotiating table with you.

"We’re not going to negotiate with a gun to our heads—that’s just stupid."

Actually, most people find that when you're staring down the barrel of a gun, you'd better start negotiating if you want to survive!

anony :

I can't even say what I think of those studio execs, or actors for that matter. If anyone deserves a fairer share, it is the writers. Without them, there would be NO show, NO stories to tell. I'm not here to make enemies. I just wanted to voice some of my thoughts, and I'm sorry if I made wrong assumptions. I think I assumed that there was a pay scale through the Writers' Guild. I believe there is a certain pay scale for actors in the SAG, and I just assumed the WGA had one too. This will be my last post.

Harold:

This is definitely a two sided issue that some feel strongly about. I feel that the writers ( union ) are wrong to a certain degree. Many writers get paid per deal. Lets dwell on that for a moment. If you and I make an agreement and I pay you for something should I have to continue to pay you for a deal? If you buy tires, should you have to pay for the tire and then pay 8 cents per spin? If I buy a switch should I pay for the Light switch and pay every time I turn it on? If I pay my secretary her salary, should I have to pay her extra every time I touch a piece of paper she typed up for me? How about I buy a car pay for it in full, then make another payment every time I drive it?
Lets face it, most everyone in the industry that is working gets paid quite well. ( Thats why there are so many that are chomping at the bit the writers union falls apart. )
The writers should negotiate their script per deal and get paid for what they do. Future payments should really go to the people that put up the money to pay the writers, directors, actors, and the countless other people behind the scenes to make a show / movie.
I don't feel that collective bargaining is in anyones best interest. All writers are not created equal and the better writers should gain monetarily for their efforts. the hacks that write much of the crap that is stuffed down our ( the public ) throat fed to us like cough syrup when we didnt want to go to school as a child. Do you really feel those people deserve money when the show / movie is a flop?
If you said, "yes" I can tell I have agravated you.
If I made movies everyone would continuously get paid a percentage. Not one dime for salary! If the movie makes money and continues to, then everyone makes money and continues to. If it flops because a writer cant write or some actors cant act, etc then everyone suffers and everyone would have a stake.
If I was Mr Counter and those he represent, I would hire non union writers in a heartbeat ( I would advertise it on TV every chance I got and watch the people flock to the studios to human resources and show that there is a long line of people that want their ( the writers ) job.
Striking is not a smart thing to do when so many can fill their shoes.
I hope both sides read this,... so that both negotiators realize that collective bargaining for a few good people is as idotic as it gets.
The problem at hand is many that work behind the scenes are not working and have no work cause someone ( was it patrick verrone? ) decided that it would be a great idea for a few writers to get a whopping 4 extra cents per DVD as many studio workers are laid off, losing their homes to foreclosure, cars to be reposessed, families out on the street because of some wacked out idea for 4 cents. Next time you see a penny on the ground send it to a writer! ( better yet the greedy idiot who started all this )
Hint the only time collective bargaining has worked in the past was when a bunch of non union people banded together to gain money for fairness.
Fairness being the key word here.
If you are a writer and you really feel you weren't being paid fair, you should have found another job, and left your position like anyone else in the free world.
Never have Union People won in the long run by going on strike.
Everyone loses.
both sides.
and all those around.

I would not cave in to the writers guild. (because striking is for those who are being treated unfairly) I would advertise on television nationwide for writers. I would hire non union writers and continue to do so and watch the union writers, change their mind quite quickly about getting back to work as others are taking their job,... for good. I would black list all writers who made it difficult for the entertainment business to go on, and not back any of their writings for any upcomming shows / movies, ever!

Mel brooks once said something to the effect of, "Anybody can direct, but there are only eleven good writers" I sure hate to see everyone out of work for the eleven good writers
I may not be a studio exec, but hey if G.E. / NBC wants to hire me to solve their problems, I'm available for a FAIR fee!

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