Writers union gives OK for members to work on 50th anniversary Grammy Awards

By Lynn Elber

LOS ANGELES – Life just got a lot easier for the head of the Recording Academy.

Last month, Neil Portnow vowed to stage a full-scale Grammy Awards show with or without support from the striking writers guild.

He should have little trouble delivering on that pledge after the Writers Guild of America agreed Monday to let its members work on the show set for Feb. 10.

Portnow called the guild’s decision gratifying and promised a 50th-anniversary show “with an amazing lineup of artists and performances.”

With the guild’s board of directors deciding to sign an interim agreement for the awards ceremony, the Grammys will escape the fate that befell this month’s Golden Globes.

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The Globes were stripped of stars and pomp when the guild wouldn’t agree to an interim deal and the Screen Actors Guild encouraged its members to boycott the ceremony, which was reduced to a news conference.

The agreement allowing guild-covered writing for the Grammys is in support of union musicians and also will help advance writers’ own quest for “a fair contract,” the guild said in a statement.

“Professional musicians face many of the same issues that we do concerning fair compensation for the use of their work in new media,” Patric M. Verrone, president of the guild’s West Coast branch, said in the statement.

The guild referred to the deal as an interim agreement, not a writing waiver, but it applies solely to the Grammys, taking it out of the category of a struck show and allowing the use of union writers.

Other interim deals made by the guild with independent studios such as United Artists and Worldwide Pants apply broadly to a company’s slate of projects.

Payment for projects distributed via the Internet is a central issue in the contract dispute between the writers union and the alliance that represents studios.

Informal talks began last week between the union and several studio chiefs in an effort to resolve the nearly three-month-old strike that has disrupted movie and TV production. Formal negotiations with the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers broke down in early December.

During the impasse, the Directors Guild of America reached a tentative deal with the alliance that addressed new-media issues and created pressure for the writers to resume talks.

The writers guild has agreed to allow next month’s NAACP Image Awards to proceed with guild support, a courtesy also granted to last Sunday night’s Screen Actors Guild Awards.

But the guild has declined a waiver for the Academy Awards, raising doubts about how the Feb. 24 ceremony will be staged if the strike continues and actors stage a boycott.

The ceremony’s producer has vowed the show will go on, hinting it could be padded with clips from 80 years of Oscar history if writers and stars do not cooperate.