WGA, AMPTP talk but don’t comment

Hollywood waits for sides to break silence

The sound of silence gripped Hollywood for a second straight day as striking writers negotiated with studios and nets behind closed doors to end the 23-day work stoppage.

Both sides agreed early Tuesday evening to return for more talks this morning. Neither the Writers Guild of America nor the Alliance of Motion Picture & Television Producers issued a comment, as part of a joint news blackout.

And with talks under way, many of TV’s top showrunners headed back to the office this week, resuming their nonwriting chores (such as editing, supervising post-production, etc.). One studio exec said “more than half” of his series’ showrunners were back at work, both on the comedy and drama side.

That follows through on an arrangement proposed by many showrunners earlier this month in which the multihyphenates agreed to return to work only if the studios agreed to return to the negotiating table.

The united front by TV’s showrunners to halt their work forced several series to stop production sooner than expected, and is seen by many as having helped the WGA’s cause — serving as a catalyst to jumpstart talks.

With those negotiations back on, several showrunners were itching to return to work to finish already written and produced episodes that nonetheless needed some supervision before completion. Also convincing some showrunners to return was the round of legal letters sent out to many showrunners warning them that by withholding their producing duties, they were in breach of contract.

Some exec producers had already returned to work to oversee nonwriting production, including Carlton Cuse of “Lost.” Many more hit the office following the Thanksgiving holiday. But most of the returning showrunners are hoping to keep a low profile to avoid the appearance of picket crossing.

Rumors again percolated Tuesday of a possible tentative deal, although most observers cautioned that the complexity of issues on the table — particularly in new media — precludes quick solutions.

Negotiators have already been planning to meet today at an unidentified hotel in Los Angeles, having set aside a three-day block for the first formal bargaining sessions since the WGA went on strike. But that period could easily be extended if leaders believe significant progress is being achieved.

The news blackout — first announced Nov. 16 as part of the agreement to restart talks — is a first for these negotiations, which were marked by acrimony right up to the start of the strike. The WGA and AMPTP operated under similar blackouts during most of the contract talks in 2001 and 2004, under the theory that negotiations could proceed more smoothly without the distraction of dealing with each other’s carping and sniping.

Along with the usual picketing of major Hollywood lots Tuesday, the guild members continued to create — and view — dozens of videos on the Internet, designed to bolster support among the 12,000 guild members along with the general public.

Four of the most popular videos — “The Office Is Closed,” “Not the Daily Show With Some Writer,” “Why We Fight” and “Voices of Uncertainty” — have now been viewed approximately 1.5 million times.

“The Office Is Closed” had generated more than 532,000 views on YouTube.com as of midday Tuesday. The three-minute video, consisting mostly of picket line footage from the strike’s second day, features “The Office” showrunner Greg Daniels, B.J. Novak, Mindy Kaling and others explaining why the skein was being shuttered and noting that the writers and actors who collaborated on the”Office Webisodes” haven’t received revenues from it.

The WGA also took issue late Tuesday with latenight host Carson Daly’s decision to return to work at NBC and his efforts to seek comedy material for the skein. “Mr. Daly is not a writer and not a member of the WGA, unlike other latenight hosts Jay Leno, David Letterman, Conan O’Brien, Craig Ferguson, Jimmy Kimmel, Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert, who have all resisted network pressure and honored our writers’ picket lines,” the WGA said.

(Michael Schneider contributed to this report.)

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