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John Wells Elected WGA West President

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Signaling that it is ready to strike out in a new direction, the WGA West has elected John Wells president. Wells, who earned 52.8% of the vote, ran against the Writers United slate, headed by presidential candidate Elias Davis, which was committed to following the path set by outgoing president Patric Verrone.

But in something of a split vote, the guild also elected two members of the Writers United slate, Tom Schulman and David Weiss as vp and secretary-treasurer, respectively. Schulman pulled 55.5% of the vote, while Weiss collected 53.3%. They triumphed over two members of Wells' slate -- Howard Michael Gould, who ran for vp, and Chris Keysor, who was up for secretary-treasurer.

Verrone moves into a board seat, along with Howard A. Rodman, Dan Wilcox, Linda Burstyn, Billy Ray, Steven Schwartz, Chip Johannessen, Carleton Eastlake and Ian Deitchman. The officers and board will serve two-year terms, effectively immediately.

Wells is known as much as a producer and showrunner as he is a writer, and that was seen as an advantage by some and a cause for suspicion by others. Wells is considered a pragmatist who, among other goals, promised to shift resources away from organizing reality shows, a major, if thus far unsuccessful, push of Verrone's.

He defeated Davis, who was secretary-treasurer under Verrone, and would have presumably continued with Verrone's harder-line approach as contract negotiations begin in advance of the current deal's May 2011 expiration date.

Ballots had been out to the membership since August 26, and voting ended Thursday night at the guild's membership meeting. A total of 2,348 valid ballots were cast, one of the largest turnouts in WGAW history. The ballot count was supervised by Robbin Johnson of Pacific Election Services, Inc., an independent firm.

After a series of online flare-ups between the presidential candidates and their supporters earlier in the month, the opposing sides made peace publicly to prevent the campaign from devolving into the bitter chaos that has lately enveloped SAG politics. Much of the dispute centered on Wells' involvement with the DGA during the writers' strike.

The election has been playing out in the context of another tough contract negotiation set to begin late next year and a financial prognosis defined by a sizable decrease in employment and income for writers and their union. In its most recent annual report to members, the WGA declared that earnings had sunk almost 18% to $801.4 million for the fiscal year ended March 31.

That drop in income has been attributed to the general state of the recession, stockpiling by networks and studios in the lead-up to the 2007-08 strike and major staff and slate contractions within the companies. Film writers have taken the biggest hit.

In June, the WGAE and WGAW overwhelmingly passed amendments to their bylaws establishing an income minimum for voting on TV-theatrical contracts and strike authorizations.

Nielsen Business Media 

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