Hollywood writers’ strike clouds Oscars

In the 80 years since the first Oscars were handed out, it has taken a war or a flood or an assassination to drastically alter or delay the celebration surrounding the film industry’s highest honours.

Now Hollywood is wringing its hands over whether the 11-week-old strike by screenwriters against the major studios could, or should, be enough to postpone the Academy Awards this year.

More than a week after the writers’ strike yanked the red carpet out from under the Golden Globes, reducing that ceremony to a 30-minute news conference, Oscar organisers insisted on Tuesday their show will go on as scheduled on February 24.

”We’re dealing with contingencies, but we’re full steam ahead,” said Sid Ganis, president of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, moments after nominations for the 80th annual event were announced in Beverly Hills.

”The point is we’re going to have a show, and we’re going to give these incredible artists what they’re due,” he added. ”We’re going to present Oscars on February 24.”

Whether the usual star-studded, three-hour-plus live telecast of the event will have to be scaled back in some way remains to be seen.

The Writers Guild of America has threatened to picket the event, barring a settlement of the strike it launched on November 5 against the major film and TV studios. And its sister union, the Screen Actors Guild, has said its members would stay home rather than cross picket lines to attend the Oscars.

Surprise reversal

It was the threat of a SAG boycott in support of the striking writers that derailed the Golden Globes telecast on January 13 and earlier forced sponsors of the People’s Choice Awards to announce their winners in a pre-taped clips show.

Network broadcasts of both events in their strike-altered forms bombed in the ratings.

However, Oscar prospects brightened on Tuesday with two separate announcements from the Writers Guild.

In a surprise reversal of its earlier stance, the WGA said it would not picket the recording industry’s upcoming Grammy Awards. And the union confirmed that its leaders would meet with studio executives on Wednesday for the first time since contract talks collapsed on December 7.

Gilbert Cates, a veteran producer of the Oscars, said a hallmark of the awards show has always been to ”reflect the times” in which they are held, and that might very well include the advent of the writers strike this year.

”The first year I did the show, the Berlin Wall came down,” he recalled. ”Then five years ago we entered Iraq [and] we didn’t have a red carpet that year.”

The last time a Hollywood labor dispute coincided with the Oscars was the writers strike of 1988. That year, the show made do without union writers but all the stars attended.

But Oscar pundit Tom O’Neil, of entertainment awards website theenvelope.com , said the Writers Guild was less militant then, and that strike was in its early stages. He said it would be more difficult to stage the event as usual today in the face of a SAG boycott.

”It’s not just another awards show. It’s the biggest show of all — it’s the Super Bowl of show business and Hollywood’s family reunion,” he said.

The Oscars have only been postponed three times — in 1938 because of floods, in 1968 due to the assassination of civil rights leader the Reverend Martin Luther King Jr., and in 1981 after the attempt on President Ronald Reagan’s life.

In 2003, Oscar organisers went on with the show just days after the US-led invasion of Iraq began, but much of the usual glitz was toned down in keeping with the sombre mood of the time. – Reuters

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