Webisodes a Bone of Contention

Welcome to cyber-strife.

In another labor-management disconnect over new media, NBC Universal has filed a complaint with the National Labor Relations Board over a dispute involving Internet-based extensions to a handful of peacock TV shows.

NBC Uni said the WGA has asked showrunners on "The Office," "Heroes," "Crossing Jordan" and "Battlestar Galactica" to refuse to provide materials for use in show webisodes or for other Web-based content. NBC Uni is asking the NLRB to force showrunners to provide the requested materials and argues that such cooperation is mandatory under existing guild contracts.

Three of the shows are NBC primetime series, while "Battlestar" airs on NBC Uni-owned Sci Fi Channel. All four are produced through the NBC Universal Studio Television division.

About 10 "Office" webisodes were completed before the showrunners refused to cooperate further, an NBC Uni spokesman said. Production on the webisodes has been interrupted since the flow of materials was halted, though plans are being formulated for producing additional webisodes despite the showrunners' resistance, the spokesman said.

A WGA spokesman declined comment Thursday, saying he hadn't yet seen the complaint since its Wednesday filing.

The flap has developed amid burgeoning interest in Web-based programming and repeated guild vows to force higher compensation for Internet reuse. The issue is expected to be a key point of contention in Hollywood's next round of contract negotiations, but the NBC Uni dispute is evidence the matter already is heating up as a source of labor strife.

Networks argue that revenue from some areas of Internet-based programming remains too skimpy to allow talent to be compensated additionally for content reuse. But there are growing signs that labor is ready to make the issue a cause celebre.

Separately on Thursday, another flashpoint of new-media controversy produced a joint statement from leadership of the DGA, SAG and the WGA.

The guilds expressed a determination to seek extra compensation for content reuse after a recent announcement from CBS about the streaming of primetime shows on the Internet. ABC also is committed to ad-supported primetime streaming, and other networks eventually may follow.

"As new methods of content distribution are rolled out, the three guilds remain united in our assertion that members must be compensated for the reuse of their work as guild contracts require," the joint statement said. "The ad-sponsored Internet streaming of primetime CBS shows is only the latest in a series of new ventures that could ultimately benefit both the entertainment industry and the actors, directors and writers who create the content that will allow these Internet sites to flourish. We will continue working to ensure that our guild members receive their contractual fair share."

No talks have been scheduled to discuss the issue, sources said. CBS declined comment on the matter.


Carl DiOrio writes for The Hollywood Reporter.

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