Session scheduled as the first of three days

Hollywood remained on the edge of its collective seat Monday amid hopes for a possible end to the writers strike.

With no fanfare, reps for the Writers Guild of America and congloms resumed bargaining Monday morning for the first time in three weeks at an undisclosed Los Angeles hotel. The session was scheduled as the first of three days of talks, as both sides brought in smaller-than-usual contingents.

Negotiations concluded in the early evening and were set to resume at 10 a.m. today. With a news blackout in place for the first time since talks started in July, neither side had any comment.

“We won’t be issuing any statement,” WGA spokesman Gregg Mitchell said.

“At least they’re talking” was a common refrain around town Monday, and optimists took solace in speculation that the outlines of a deal have already been hammered out thanks to back-channel efforts by leading agents such as CAA’s Bryan Lourd, WMA’s Jim Wiatt and UTA’s Jim Berkus. The tenpercenters and leading WGA showrunners had played a key role two weeks ago in securing an agreement to resume talks.

Lourd and WGA West exec director David Young dined together last Wednesday at La Terza, with Young filling up a legal pad full of info — indicating that key players have been laying the groundwork for the new round of talks since before Thanksgiving.

But pessimism pervaded in some quarters, as some suspected that Monday’s session was little more than a pro forma PR move by leaders of the guild and the Alliance of Motion Picture & Television Producers — mostly in reaction to a rain of pinkslips.

The darker outlook’s fueled by uncertainty over just how far the two sides remain apart in key areas, such as payment for streaming video or whether the WGA had taken its DVD residuals increase proposal off the table. Before talks broke off on Nov. 4, the AMPTP conceded it would pay writers for use of streaming video but only after a 45-day window for promotional use — prompting subsequent ridicule by guild leaders, who said the promo window should be only three days long.

Picketing resumed Monday after a five-day break at most major lots in Hollywood. Citing the decline in production, WGA West prexy Patric Verrone has announced that the weekly picketing requirement for members has been cut from 20 hours to 12.

In New York, the guild is staging a major rally today with presidential candidate John Edwards, who walked a WGA picket line outside NBC in Burbank on Nov. 16.

The WGA announced that Edwards will be attending its Solidarity Rally at noon in Washington Square Park. Theme of the event is “We’re all in this together, and we demand a fair deal!”

Other expected attendees include Rep. Jerry Nadler (D-N.Y.), Tim Robbins, Michael Emerson, Joe Pantoliano, Colin Quinn, Aasif Mandvi, Tony Goldwyn, Evan Handler and Gilbert Gottfried, along with union leaders Randi Weingarten (United Federation of Teachers), Ed Ott (Central Labor Council), Gary La Barbera and Denis M. Hughes (New York AFL-CIO), Sam Freed (Screen Actors Guild New York president), Richard Masur (former national president of SAG) and WGA East leaders.

In Los Angeles, horror writers have opted for a comic touch with a noon exorcism ceremony for the AMPTP outside Warner Bros. today. The Service Employees Intl. Union also announced its members will launch a monthlong mobile billboard campaign.

“Working people from all over are coming together to stand with the writers because working people believe work should be rewarded,” said SEIU president Andy Stern. “It’s time for the media moguls to get on the same page.”

(Michael Fleming contributed to this report.)

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