Writers, producers near deal

Announcement could come this afternoon

After keeping Hollywood on red alert for a year over fear of a devastating strike, writers and producers were expected to announce a tentative three-year film-TV deal mid-afternoon Friday.

The agreement, which had been widely rumored amid a news blackout, came three days after the Writers Guild of America contract had expired. Optimism had risen that a deal was imminent as talks resumed at 10 a.m. PDT at WGA West headquarters in Hollywood.

The agreement must still be approved by the WGA’s 11,500 members, who have been told to continue working under terms of the expired pact. In a sign that the talks were progressing, WGA leaders had not asked Guild members for a strike authorization.

The WGA’s old contract expired at 12:01 a.m. Wednesday, triggering marathon bargaining sessions and waves of speculation about a possible deal.

Hollywood had been mired in apprehension for months that a WGA walkout would lead to a strike by the Screen Actors Guild after its June 30 contract expiration.

The WGA talks have been viewed as especially problematic since the writers had been campaigning for a wide array of contract improvements –significant upgrades in residuals for video/DVD, foreign TV, cable and Fox Network; Internet jurisdiction; and expended “creative rights” such as guaranteed access to sets and limits on the “A Film By” credit.

During the past year, film and TV work had soared as producers scrambled to stockpile to ride out a strike. Networks had prepped an alternate fall schedule, to be announced at the mid-May upfront presentations, that would have seen scripted shows replaced with reality shows, news magazines and other non-scripted programs.

Talks began Jan. 22 and lasted six weeks before collapsing with a $100 million gap between the WGA and the Alliance of Motion Picture & Television Producers. After both sides vowed that they would not “meet in the middle” of the gap, negotiations resumed on April 17.

Los Angeles Mayor Richard Riordan had been pressuring both sides to compromise, citing estimated losses to the local economy of $6.9 billion and 82,000 jobs from a three-month WGA strike and a five-month SAG work stoppage.

The 1988 writers strike lasted 22 weeks, delayed the fall TV seaons and cost the entertainment industry an estimated $500 million. That walkout was the longest in Hollywood’s history until SAG and AFTRA eclipsed that with last year’s six-month strike against advertisers.

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