Negotiators feeling writers’ cramps

Negotiators for TV and film writers and their producer employers resumed talks at noon Wednesday amid speculation that they had already reached a broad agreement on money issues and were now in intense talks concerning “creative rights” issues. Thursday’s New York Times quoted one industry exec who attended a 4:00 p.m. session as saying, “If we can resolve the creative rights, then it’s a run for the roses.” However, Thursday’sLos Angeles Daily News quoted a producer as remarking, “There’s no way in hell they were going to strike over the creative issues.” Meanwhile, the Writers Guild of America, which agreed with producers to impose a news blackout on the negotiations, dismissed as “incorrect” a report that appeared in Wednesday’s Los Angeles Times claiming that “the two sides had a basic outline of a proposed settlement.” Among other things the article, which cited unnamed sources briefed on the negotiations, said that, under a new contract, writers would receive no increase in residual payments for reruns on basic cable channels but would for pay-TV outlets like HBO. Thursday’sedition of the Times features a front-page article quoting a source with knowledge of Wednesday’s talks as saying, “We got through enough of the underbrush that we can now make a push to the finish.”

Reebok has created a special commercial for tonight’s Survivor: The Australian Outback finale intended to take its “Defy Convention” campaign one step further. The spot, featuring a sumo wrestler dancing in untied Reebok sneakers, is titled “Defy Reason.’ Thursday’s Wall Street Journal observed that part of Reebok’s deal with CBS for the show called for Survivor contestants to wear Reebok T-shirts, bandannas and shoes. Meanwhile, the New York Post reported today that it appears that Survivor 3 will be set in Kenya. It quoted sources as saying that host Jeff Probst recently visited Nairobi, where he taped a promo for next season that will air on Thursday’s finale.

Indiana officials said Wednesday that 45 minutes prior to the scheduled May 16 execution of Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh, they will release a list of TV reporters eligible to serve as observers and that the reporters will then have to decide which two — one national, one from Oklahoma City — will serve as serve as press pool witnesses. “The reporters are going to have to talk among themselves – it will be a peer-selection process,” Court TV exec Marlene Dann told Thursday’s New York Post. Two hundred persons will witness the execution.

ABC’s Nightline
Wednesday night aired portions of a radio documentary that features on-the-scene descriptions of prison executions in Georgia between 1983 and 1998. (“When the first surge entered his body, he stiffened and I heard a pop, as if one of the straps broke,” a prison official says on one of the tapes. “He is at this time sitting there with clenched fists, with no other movement.”) The tapes were assembled by award-winning public radio producer-reporter David Isay. The entire program is being carried by public radio station WNYC in New York and is being made available to other public radio stations. NPR’s All Things Considered, which regularly features Isay’s work, was offered the tapes originally but declined, published reports said today (Thursday).

Wednesday night is becoming a stronger night for NBC than its onetime invincible Must-See TV Thursday. All-new episodes of The West Wing at 9:00 p.m. and Law & Order at 10:00 p.m. pulled some of their best ratings for the season, winning their time periods with an 11.9/18 and a 14.1/22 respectively. CBS won the 8:00 hour with a Murder, She Wrote special.

Nathan Lane and Matthew Broderick, who star in Mel Brooks’ The Producers on Broadway, have agreed to co-host the 55th annual Tony Awards, scheduled to air on CBS June 3. Tony nominations — expected to be dominated by The Producers — are due to be announced on Monday.

Hollywood Reporter gossip columnist George Christy has denied accepting favors from movie producers in exchange for mentions in his column. In an interview appearing in Thursday’s Los Angeles Times, Christy maintained that he had acted in every film for which he had received credit, although, he said, some of his scenes may have ended up on the cutting room floor and others involved work as an extra in which he might not have been recognized. Referring to the national publicity that resulted when the publisher of the Reporter spiked a story about him written by the trade paper’s labor reporter, Christy remarked, “I’m a clean person. I really feel I’m being victimized here.” The labor reporter, David Robb, resigned last week, sparking the resignation of the Reporter‘s editor, Anita Busch, and film editor Beth Laski. Asked by the Times about reports that he had received free office space from producers Steve Stabler and Brad Krevoy, Christy commented, “These are friends of mine. I don’t think it’s a conflict.”

Daily Variety columnist Army Archerd has acknowledged that he, too, has received some 25 credits in motion pictures — but that he can be seen in each of the films. “Don’t try to make any comparison between me and George Christy,” Archerd said in an interview with the New York Post’s “Page Six” column.

DreamWorks agreed to redo scenes in the animated Shrek featuring a character voiced by Mike Myers when Myers, after seeing a rough-cut, decided that he wanted to redo the voice with a Scottish accent, Britain’s Guardian newspaper reported Thursday. The newspaper said that producer Jeffrey Katzenberg agreed to the change after he heard Myers‘ new take on the character, a grumpy ogre. “It was so good we took $4 million worth of animation out and did it again,” he told the Guardian.

Film crews in Toronto are expecting a jarring slowdown in production during the second half of the year, regardless of whether a strike materializes. (Canadian film and TV unions have agreed to support their U.S colleagues by boycotting U.S. productions, which account for 65 percent of the country’s film and TV business.) Toronto production manager Michael Wray told Wednesday’s Canadian National Post that U.S. companies scheduled the bulk of their shoots during the first half of the year in anticipation of a strike, so “even if there’s not a strike, there will still be a work slowdown.” Alex Gill, a spokesman for the Canadian actors’ union, observed that there are about 20 U.S. movies of the week now filming in Toronto. “For this time of year, that’s very busy,” he told the National Post.