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Nick Counter, chief studio negotiator, to retire

The Hollywood veteran helped put together 311 major contracts in 25 years with the AMPTP.

February 28, 2009|Richard Verrier

Nick Counter, who as chief negotiator for the major studios became the designated nemesis of Hollywood labor, is retiring after more than 25 years on the job.

The Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers said Friday that Counter will retire when his five-year contract expires March 31.

The move was widely anticipated. In fact, Counter, 68, was expected to retire last summer, but those plans were delayed by the ongoing labor dispute with the Screen Actors Guild.

During the on-again-off-again SAG talks, Counter has taken a back seat to longtime lieutenant Carol Lombardini, the alliance's executive vice president of business and legal affairs, who has led the negotiations. Lombardini will serve as acting president of the alliance until a replacement for Counter is found.

The alliance said it would conduct a search for a successor, raising questions about whether Lombardini would fill the slot or make way for a new team.

Counter's departure marks the end of an era. The former amateur boxer and University of Colorado halfback served as AMPTP's president for 27 years and was the chief negotiator for 311 major labor pacts, including six in 2008.

For most of his tenure, Counter presided over a period of relative labor peace, except for two major strikes that rocked Hollywood, in 1988 and 2008, both by the Writers Guild of America. Over the years he was praised by his colleagues for giving the often-fractious alliance a unified voice. The group often has had difficulty reaching consensus because it represents more than 350 film and television producers, including major media giants that are fierce competitors.

And he was vilified by many union members, especially during the most recent writers strike, when he was portrayed as uncompromising and insensitive to writers' concerns. Some senior studio executives were also unhappy with his handling of the Writers Guild contract talks, believing he had underestimated the union's resolve. They made it clear to him last summer that they wanted him to retire once contract talks with SAG concluded, people close to the executives said.

Counter declined to comment.

The alliance said Counter would remain with the group as a consultant on labor matters, including the SAG negotiations. Talks recently broke off when the union rejected the studios' final offer. Actors have been without a contract since June 30. No date has been set for a resumption in talks, although few think a strike is likely.

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richard.verrier@latimes.com

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