NOTES ON A SEASON

Oscar won't ask for waiver

Esteemed awards group tried to avoid giving WGA a platform for protest.

Oscar 2008

Not only is there the matter of who will be nominated, but also if, and when, there will be an Oscar show at all due to the writers strike. (AMPAS)

The long, unpredictable path of this unusual awards season is set to take a turn toward its final act with the 80th Academy Awards nominations announcement set for Tuesday morning.

Not only is there the matter of who will be nominated in this tightest of all fields, but also if, and when, there will be an Oscar show at all because of the writers' strike.

This is a question that has lingered on Hollywood's mind as the town lies in the smoldering ruins of the Golden Globes last Sunday.

The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences has made private assurances this week that -- no matter what form it has to take -- the show will go on. Athough, whether it actually goes on Feb. 24th as planned might be open to interpretation. This despite show producer Gil Cates' promise that it will be on that date, even if Plan B goes into effect and the academy produces the "alternate Oscars."

Cates, who is also the Directors Guild of America's chief negotiator, didn't elaborate on what that might be when he spoke to a group of marketing and PR executives about plans for the Oscar telecast in a widely circulated report earlier this week, but at least one veteran campaign consultant in attendance predicted it could involve remotes from around the world.

Getting to those far-off places could be tough for WGA picketers who vow to be out in force if the academy goes ahead with its ABC broadcast, sans union writers. In fact WGA, West, President Patric Verrone (at times sounding like a pit bull itching for a fight) has repeatedly indicated they would not grant the academy a writing waiver so the show could employ WGA members.

There's just one problem with that. The academy hasn't asked.

The group did apply for a routine waiver for film clips but was told it would have to pay.

This is evidence of an interesting strategy the academy is pursuing, especially since a writing staff probably would have been in place at least two weeks ago in a normal year.

But who said this year was normal?

"You will notice I haven't asked for a waiver," academy President Sid Ganis intriguingly said when we ran into him at last weekend's L.A. Film Critics Assn. awards dinner.

Clearly Ganis, who originally worked in marketing and publicity before becoming a producer, understands how to keep control of the situation rather than giving the WGA a media platform to publicly turn down the academy and throw the whole prospect of an Oscar show that might be boycotted by sympathetic actors who won't cross a picket line straight into the headlines.

Ganis also told us he has been surveying the entire membership of the academy, and other than a few executives, points out it is mostly composed of guild members.

Perhaps he is marshaling the strong pro-union membership of the academy to help him make a case for a strike-free zone at the Kodak Theatre on Sunday, Feb 24?

It makes sense. The academy is composed of all kinds of guild members, whether below-the-line or actors, directors, producers and yes,writers.

In recent days, high-profile academy members such as George Clooney and Tom Hanks have publicly urged a negotiated end to the strike immediately, partially in the hopes that the Oscars show, which has never been canceled in its 80-year history (even during World War II) will not be harmed by this frustrating labor action.

Hanks, in fact, is an academy governor for the actors branch, and his chess moves should the Screen Actors Guild recommend their members boycott Oscar Night rather than cross a picket line could be key in whether any stars actually turn up on the premises.

The WGA seems to have no clear policy in granting waivers. This week it gave one to the NAACP for its Image Award show, showing solidarity with a group that has taken historic stands in labor disputes, albeit not necessarily ones revolving around how much "new media" cash a writer for "CSI: Miami" is entitled to.

Of course, the WGA turned down both NBC's Golden Globes and CBS' People's Choice Awards, leading those normally glamorous galas to put on truncated shows and consequently tank in the ratings. The Grammys on CBS is now awaiting word of its fate as well.

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