The Writers Guild of America would prefer "scab labor."
Even as guild members prepared to vote Wednesday night on their latest strike tactic--a so-called "interim" contract that is supposed to lure individual companies away from the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers--the alliance was working on a gambit of its own.
Herb Steinberg, spokesman for the producers group, said he was compiling a list of TV shows, including several prime-time series, that would go into production this summer with scripts from . . . where?
"We can't reveal names for legal reasons," Steinberg said.
According to Steinberg, however, the alliance is taking all screenwriting offers seriously, and it plans to circulate immediately among its members a compilation of 60 queries sent by amateur and professional writers who hail from as far away as Lima, Ohio, and from as nearby as Beverly Hills.
"I've been following your negotiations with great interest," begins a typical letter, this one from a former advertising copywriter who claims to have worked in the past for MTM, which produced "Hill Street Blues," "St. Elsewhere" and other shows.
The guild is equally serious about hunting down violators of its strike policy, which threatens members with fines and expulsion and non-members with future banishment if they write for struck companies.
"NOTICE! To all future writers--the guild is actively investigating reports of individuals who are writing for struck companies," read a warning in Hollywood trade papers on Wednesday.
The union's disciplinary committee claims to have nine volunteers scrupulously investigating anonymous tips and analyzing finished scripts for evidence of "illegal" revisions performed after the strike began on March 7. The guild has also filed a complaint with the National Labor Relations Board against several producers who have refused to turn over the names of writers allegedly working for them.
But how much strikebreaking is actually going on?
It is difficult to measure a phenomenon about which few movie and TV industry insiders will talk openly.
But private conversations with agents, executives, writers and others indicate that--apart from the soap operas, which have kept going with scripts delivered by secretaries and network executives alike--relatively little non-union writing has been delivered to companies.
"I haven't seen it yet. . . ," said one agent. "In another week or two that could change. You might see real defections (from the guild). But not yet."
The agent said one of his writer-clients had recently turned down a bit of lucrative TV work even after a producer offered to indemnify him against any fines or other action the guild might take against him for strikebreaking.
Several agents and others said the big Hollywood studios seemed to have become more aggressive in soliciting script work since the union rejected the producers' latest contract offer by a wide margin on June 22. But many writers still weren't biting.
One writer, for example, said a major studio executive recently offered him a six-figure payment for three days' work revising a screenplay that is already shooting. The writer said he turned down the offer. But he declined to identify the company or the executive, who is, he explained, a longtime associate.
In a further indication that any serious increase in production with non-guild scripts is yet to come, representatives of several craft union locals said their members, to their knowledge, still hadn't been called back to work.