DEBORAH AMOS, host:
This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Deborah Amos.
STEVE INSKEEP, host:
And I'm Steve Inskeep.
We are midway through the final month before a Hollywood writers contract expires.
A writers strike, if it happened, could change what we see on TV and eventually the movies.
NPR's Kim Masters is following that possibility.
Kim, welcome to program once again.
KIM MASTERS: Good morning.
INSKEEP: So explain how this would work. If the writers went on strike at the end of the month, say, how soon will we see the effects?
MASTERS: Well, I think you'd see the effects on TV first. If you watch Leno, Letterman, Jon Stewart, those shows might be going in to repeats right away. Now, this - we haven't had a writers strike since 1988. So the networks are little a bit tentative when you ask them what will happen. I think they're looking for ways to get around this strike, but the Writers Guild has made it very clear that they are going to be scrutinizing their members to make sure that they do not cheat.
INSKEEP: What makes the Writers Guild dig in at this particular moment?
MASTERS: Well, the writers feel that they got taken them last time when they negotiated their cut of DVD profits. They're looking at a raft of new media in this digital world, and they do not want to be fooled again.
INSKEEP: This is all about resale - the way that they'll take a TV program and sell it again and again and again and how much are they going to give back to the people who wrote it in the first place.
MASTERS: And in what format: when it's on your hand-held device, when it's on your cell phone, or when it's on your computer. They don't know what the technology will be exactly, but they want a piece of it.
INSKEEP: Do the studios negotiate together the same way that the Writers Guild does?
MASTERS: Yes. The studios are represented by the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers. They've taken a very tough line. They started out saying, look, we're suffering too in the new media world. We don't know what the new media is. So why don't we do a study, and once we've done the study we can talk about who gets what. And the writers said no to that.
So the producers came back with a very tough line, which is, hey, if you're demanding money of the new media now, we will destroy the residual system that you have enjoyed all these years. And the residual system is when the writers are paid when their work is repeated, you know, on television or sold to the movies. And that, I think, may have galvanized some of the writers. So while people have been very, very worried about a strike, it now it looks like it will happen.
INSKEEP: There must be room for a joke here about whether we would actually miss TV writers if we actually lost them.
MASTERS: You know, I think that if you're a Jon Stewart fan - I'm going to guess that you might sometimes Tivo Jon Stewart? You might miss it.
INSKEEP: What if you are a producer of a reality TV show, "Survivor" or something. Are you going to miss the writers?
MASTERS: If you're a producer of the reality TV show, you're waiting in the wings, because of one of the things that the networks can do is to bring out a bunch of reality shows which are not covered by the guild. So the networks can sort of talk a tough game and say, hey, we're going to bring out reality. But the truth is, they are not that keen to do that.
They are going to look around desperately for something they can put on the air, scripted. For example, NBC is said to be negotiating to rerun the original British version of "The Office," which of course did not air on their network. They have the American version of "The Office." So there is talk that Warner Brothers, which makes "The Closer," a cable TV show is offering reruns of "The Closer" to any broadcast network that would want to buy it, because it has not been aired on broadcast television.
INSKEEP: So the networks are pooling their retreads, but what about the movie studios?
MASTERS: The movie studios have another problem. They may be a little bit pregnant or a lot pregnant with very expensive movies that will not have writers available much sooner than they thought. So what they're doing is they're pulling the trigger as fast as they can on certain projects. One producer said to me the result of this is we're going to make even worse movies than we already do.
(Soundbite of laughter)
MASTERS: But we won't see the effect of that for a couple of years because it takes 18, 20 months for these movies to get into the theater. But you will see some haste and you'll see some projects that may be left hanging. For example, Paramount has "Star Trek" very expensively starting up in the beginning of next year. Can they go forward with that movie and complete it if the writers are out? That's the kind of question the studios are grappling with.
INSKEEP: Maybe they could take a page from the TV networks and take old "Star Trek" episodes and just rearrange them in some way to make a film.
MASTERS: You know, at these prices they'd better try to make an airtight movie.
INSKEEP: NPR's entertainment correspondent Kim Masters is covering it.
Kim, thanks very much.
MASTERS: Thank you.