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Strike: Signs still promising

RKO signs interim deal

Hollywood remains guardedly optimistic about an end to the writers strike, now entering its 13th week.

Informal talks between the studios and leaders of the Writers Guild of America are expected to continue today.

Both sides continued to observe the news blackout, instituted last week when the WGA accepted the majors’ invitation to start meeting. The sessions — widely viewed as de facto negotiations — have apparently been productive, but the outcome remains uncertain.

There’s another sign of a thaw in the chilly relationship between scribes and congloms: With no advance fanfare, CBS Corp. supremo Leslie Moonves broke bread with WGA leaders Patrick Verrone and David Young on Friday. The trio, along with CBS labor relations chief Harry Isaacs, had dinner at a private dining room inside the Four Seasons Hotel.

Both the Moonves dinner and the off-the-record chats are being interpreted as hopeful signs that the two parties will restart formal talks soon.

The town’s still hoping the WGA strike will end soon enough to bring about a picket-free Oscarcast on Feb. 24.

Should the WGA picket the Oscars, the ceremonies would likely be devoid of stars, since SAG has been staunchly supportive of the scribes during the strike. SAG and the WGA have planned a “unity day” noon rally outside Fox Studios today.

At Saturday night’s DGA Awards ceremony, Academy Awards producer Gil Cates told reporters he’d wait another two weeks before deciding on a format for the kudocast. Cates, who also headed the DGA’s negotiating committee, asserted that audiences will still tune in to the show even if it’s a star-free affair.

The DGA announced Sunday its national board had approved the tentative deal with the Alliance of Motion Picture & Television Producers and sent it to the guild’s 13,500 members for ratification.

“This has been a great achievement for the DGA,” said DGA president Michael Apted. “Ten days ago we reached a tentative agreement with the studios and today the Board approved it unanimously. We achieved our three primary goals: jurisdiction in new media, which was absolutely essential; compensation for the use and reuse of our work in new media; and significant gains on issues of real importance for our work in traditional media.”

In another development, the WGA announced Friday that it had signed its 13th interim deal, penning a pact with RKO Pictures a day after signing similar agreements with Lionsgate and Marvel. The interim deals let the companies hire writers under the terms and conditions offered by the WGA before formal negotiations collapsed last month.

For the WGA, such deals are aimed at persuading the congloms to resume formal talks by asserting that the terms are reasonable enough for the indies to accept.

The Alliance of Motion Picture & Television Producers, however, has characterized the pacts as “one-off” agreements that are meaningless since the terms will be superseded when the AMPTP and the WGA reach a deal.

In a joint announcement, RKO and the WGA said the company’s current production schedule, to be announced this week, includes several original screen projects, as well as the financing, production and distribution of a number of new versions of classic films from RKO’s 1,300-film library.

RKO CEO Ted Hartley said in a statement, “The negotiation with the guild was smooth and businesslike; they kept their agreement and we kept ours. It all moved ahead at a steady pace and resulted in good feelings on both sides.”

WGA West president Verrone and WGA East president Michael Winship said in a statement that RKO signed “an interim agreement that recognizes fair and respectful compensation for writers on the Internet and in new media.”

Besides RKO, Lionsgate and Marvel, the other interim deals have been signed by TWC, UA, Sidney Kimmel Entertainment, Spyglass Entertainment, MRC, Jackson Bites, Mandate Films, Bob Yari’s Sixth Floor Literary Properties, Overt Operations/Anonymous Content and Worldwide Pants.

(Josef Adalian contributed to this report.)

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