MyNetworkTV Nears WGA Deal

Aug 14, 2006  •  Post A Comment

Writers working on MyNetworkTV’s year-round telenovela project are near a deal to gain union status, sources said.

Since last year, writers employed by Twentieth Television’s upcoming U.S.-based telenovela dramas “Desire” and “Secret Obsessions” have been working without a guild contract. As first reported by TelevisionWeek March 13, the company deemed the writers “translators” since the projects are adaptations of previously produced telenovelas from other countries.

The fight echoes the ongoing efforts of reality show story editors, who are likewise trying to gain union status in an emerging genre.

Fox Television Stations CEO Jack Abernethy, who oversees MyNetworkTV, last week broke the network’s silence on the dispute and defended the translator term.

“The point we’re trying to make is these are not scripts we’re testing,” he said. “These are scripts that work very, very well. The point to focus on translating was to emphasize that we are not starting from scratch. We’re taking scripts that were hits around the world and translating them to English.”

Paul Buccieri, head of production for Twentieth, said the company employs translators to transfer the original scripts to English. Writers then adapt the material further. Twentieth is the programming and distribution arm of Fox TV Stations. The division is producing the programming to be featured on MyNetworkTV.

“There are writers who adapt the material, yes,” Mr. Buccieri said. “We’re not shying away from that.”

Mr. Abernethy and Mr. Buccieri portrayed negotiations with the WGA as nearly finished.

“We have come to agreements with everybody,” Mr. Buccieri said. “We’ll come to a conclusion that everybody will be happy with soon. We want to create a situation where everybody wins.”

The WGA declined to comment, but sources said an agreement is expected shortly.

When MyNetworkTV launches Sept. 5, the two-hour nightly prime-time telenovela block will signal the start of 600 hours per year of original programming. The International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees and the American Federation of Television & Radio Artists have unionized the production on behalf of many crew positions and actors.

Mr. Buccieri said the project’s scope made keeping production costs, which reportedly top out at about $500,000 per episode, a key priority.

“Sometimes we have nine units shooting at the same time and employing thousands of actors … that’s a massive amount of production,” he said. “Yet we made a decision to keep the production in the United States, to keep these jobs here.”