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Thursday 15 November 2007
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US TV strike could give British a star role


By Catherine Elsworth in Los Angeles
Last Updated: 7:00am GMT 14/11/2007

British screenwriters could be the unexpected beneficiaries of the writers' strike crippling Hollywood as American television and film producers try to beat the stoppage by hiring non-union staff overseas.

The Writers Guild of America, which began its walk-out last week, has no jurisdiction in Britain, where film and television writers are being contacted by entertainment executives to work on American productions.

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"We are getting calls asking about various writers," one London-based agent said yesterday. "They mention specific projects - 'I've had this channel that wants to make this show, have you got anyone who could work on it?' - as obviously they don't."

Some see the strike as an opportunity for Britons to land Hollywood projects they would not normally have a chance of getting.

But others are urging caution. "It might be positive for the writing industry over here if more English writers get taken up," the agent said. "But we are being very careful - we want to show solidarity with the writers' cause.

"I would not advise any of my writers to break ranks and do an American series based there. It would probably be the last job you would do over there once the WGA sorts themselves out."

Just before the strike began, NBC, one of the five major television networks, struck a deal with a British production company, Power, for a 13-episode series, Robinson Crusoe. It marks the first time in 45 years that a British company has produced a drama series for a US network.

The cost of the series to NBC will be a fraction of the normal. Although the business model for the deal - using production companies outside the Hollywood studio system - was developed before the strike, the network accelerated its implementation as the stoppage loomed.

Experts say the longer the strike goes on, the more networks will seek similar overseas deals to sidestep the WGA. The strike has so far halted production of at least eight prime-time shows, including the US version of The Office, and will soon stop Desperate Housewives and Grey's Anatomy.

The dispute centres on payments from DVDs and shows offered on the internet. The Writers Guild of Great Britain has warned its members "not to engage in strike-breaking" and promised to pass the names of anyone who does to the WGA.

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