Studios, writers still blocked

'Very intense negotiations' keeping industry on toes

Hollywood’s high-stakes drama over a new writers’ contract remained stubbornly unresolved early today as negotiators agreed to extend the talks for eight more hours.

Talk recessed at 1:30 a.m. after 13 and a half hours and will resume at 10 a.m. Both sides retained the news blackout that has been imposed since this round of negotiations began April 17.

“These are very intense negotations, a lot of hours, a lot of work being put in and a great deal of mindfulness of the concern of the community and our colleagues in the industry,” said Writers Guild spokeswoman Cheryl Rhoden. She refused to comment on whether progress has been achieved or whether the companies have presented the WGA a final offer.

The move came with the entertainment industry still agog with anxiety over a potentially devastating strike, despite widespread speculation that both sides had been moving toward a tentative deal.

The late-night announcement at Writers Guild of America West headquarters in Hollywood came at the end of a second day of marathon talks with the writers’ contract expired for more than 25 hours. The WGA pact ran out at 12:01 a.m. Wednesday near the end of a 17-hour session.

Guild execs have declared that the provisions of the expired WGA contract remain in effect as long as negotiations continue.

Although the latest extension does not eliminate the possibility of a much-feared strike, the move signals a reduction of the probability.

Speculation surrounding the talks, which has been fueled by an all-encompassing news blackout, took a positive turn this week with rumors spreading that both sides had moved enough to begin crafting a tentative deal.

Those rumors gained speed Wednesday afternoon when toppers including Warner’s Alan Horn, U’s Stacey Snider, CBS’s Les Moonves, Sony’s Ken Lemberger and DreamWorks’ Jeffrey Katzenberg arrived at WGA headquarters and remained at the talks for several hours.

Many veteran Hollywood trackers had assumed that WGA negotiators would not be able to find a settlement that would be acceptable, given the breadth of demands for hikes in residuals for Fox Network, video/DVD, cable and foreign TV. But, in recent days, sources also indicated that extensions of up to a week could be forthcoming if both sides saw significant momentum at the bargaining table.

Still, negotiators are facing a narrowing window in which to reach a deal. Both sides are being heavily pressured to bring the talks to a conclusion due to the requirement for networks to set their fall skeds by mid-May and by the need for contract talks with the Screen Actors Guild to start as soon as possible.

SAG and AFTRA face a June 30 expiration on their film-TV contract and reps of both unions have attended every negotiating sessions. Labor experts believe the actors are likely to take their cue from the writers in terms of deciding whether or not to strike.

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