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The suds flow, strike or no strike

Some have left picket lines to write soaps again, using the inactive guild status 'fi core.'

December 31, 2007|Lynn Smith | Times Staff Writer

When talks broke down earlier this month between the studios and striking writers, it began to hit home that scribes could be jobless for many months to come. One of those writers finally made the agonizing decision to stop picketing and go back to work.

The writer's show, a daytime soap, had run out of scripts. To this writer, the moral choice lay in keeping the show on the air.

"Daytime serials are not in a healthy situation," said the writer, who asked for anonymity, fearing fallout from both sides in the complex and highly charged standoff. "If we can keep shows on the air, I perceive it as something that needs to be done for the future generation of writers."

Although most daytime writers have joined their colleagues on the picket lines, others -- fearing for their jobs or the survival of the soap genre altogether -- have quietly gone back to work. Even those who are still picketing say soap writers' issues are unique.

For The Record
Los Angeles Times Tuesday, January 08, 2008 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 2 inches; 73 words Type of Material: Correction
Soap opera writers: In a Dec. 31 Calendar article about how soap opera writers are coping with the Writers Guild of America strike, a comment by "All My Children" writer Michelle Patrick was not placed in the correct context. When she said, "The more heinous the producers behave, the angrier I get," Patrick was referring to members of the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers, not the individual producers of soap operas.
For The Record
Los Angeles Times Wednesday, January 09, 2008 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 2 inches; 80 words Type of Material: Correction
Soap opera writers: In a Dec. 31 Calendar section article about how soap opera writers are coping with the Writers Guild of America strike, writer Rick Draughon was quoted as saying, "It's better for one of us to get a foot in the door [of new media] right now while it's an experiment than later when they've already hired a guild person." Actually, what he said at the end of the sentence was "when they've already hired a non-guild person."

Residuals, for instance, a key area of disagreement between the studios and the Writers Guild of America, are not an issue for them because their shows are rarely rerun. Instead, their interests tend to focus on health and pension benefits and minimum salary for the Internet, one place where the genre -- whose audience for the daytime perennials has been dwindling -- could possibly survive.

The specialized world of soap operas creates unique situations during Hollywood's periods of labor unrest; it's widely believed that during strikes in the 1980s, scab writers were hired to keep the soaps going. Some writers currently on strike say producers have tried to lure them back with promises of anonymity. And because the estimated 110 daytime writers are spread out geographically, many working at home, it would be relatively easy to keep such deals quiet.

Others, such as the writer quoted above, are starting to take advantage of a little-known inactive status known as "financial core" that allows union members to return to work without censure.

"You resign your membership but continue to pay dues," the writer said about the financial-core designation. "They [the guild] still represent you. You still have your healthcare, your pension. It's absolutely fair. You remain involved in the protections that the union offers, and you support them financially. There are many reasons people make that decision."

The WGA would not disclose the number of members who've opted for financial-core status. "We don't think it's an issue, but since this is an internal matter, we choose not to comment," said guild spokesman Gregg Mitchell.

To encourage more writers' interest in the financial-core option, the studios' representatives placed a Q&A list about the process on the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers website.

According to this site, members do not have to do anything to seek financial-core status. They may simply choose to work, and the WGA has no right to impose discipline. However, a WGA site said members must resign first in writing. It is not necessary to prove financial hardship. Financial-core writers may no longer vote or run for office. They may also continue to work without formal repercussions, and the union continues to represent them in bargaining negotiations. Some may choose financial-core status because they need an income; others because they disagree with the union's politics.

More writers might consider the "fi-core" alternative, as it is called, if the strike stretches out. "In a month, things could change dramatically," said Bob Guza, the head writer and producer on "General Hospital."

So far, the networks have continued showing original episodes of soaps. One reason is that many shows had been stockpiling scripts for almost a year in preparation for the strike.

Another, and one hardly anyone wants to talk about, is that the networks have apparently already replaced striking writers with non-guild members, producers, scabs and "fi-core" writers. Viewers have yet to see or judge the work of the replacements, but some say that the stockpiled scripts will soon be running out. Depending on the show, that could be anywhere from a few weeks to two months from now. A "General Hospital" writer said that the last team-written script aired Wednesday and that the last team-created story line would begin airing Friday.

Karen Harris, a writer on "General Hospital" who serves on the WGA daytime committee, said she had turned down offers to work on potential Internet soaps after she learned they were not covered by the guild. But writer Rick Draughon ("Days of Our Lives") took NBC up on an offer to create "Coastal Dreams," an original Internet soap produced after the network canceled its daytime series "Passions." Draughon took the job even though he doesn't receive benefits.

"It's better for one of us to get a foot in the door right now while it's an experiment than later when they've already hired a guild person," he said.

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