Countdown mode at WGA

Indecision remains with six days left on guild pact

Will showbiz scribes get a deal this week and, if not, what chance is there of a strike?

Those are the unanswered questions percolating through the town. Uncertainty persists as negotiations between the Writers Guild of America and the Alliance of Motion Picture & Television Producers enter their fourth week today, just six days before expiration of the current contract.

Though the pact could be extended for a few days to conclude a deal, the pressure is building for an agreement to be in place well before May 17 — the date of the upfront meetings in New York, at which networks will preview the fall TV season for advertisers.

Talks between the writers and producers thus far have been cordial, but those close to the talks have expressed frustration over the lack of any definitive moves toward any conclusion. Both sides will meet in subcommittees today, then resume face-to-face talks Tuesday.

At this point, no one expects a strike unless the studios absolutely refuse to give in on at least some of the key WGA demands, which include improved DVD residuals, boosts in health and pension contributions and jurisdiction over reality TV and animation. Should guild negotiators agree to a deal without some advances in those areas, the leaders run the risk of having members vote down the agreement, as they did in 1997.

The WGA is required to set aside a strike fund, which currently has $8.5 million, but org has made no other visible preparations for a work stoppage. That strategy differs from the guild’s tactics in 2001.

Guild members, agents, attorneys and execs are skeptical that a strike is likely. They cite three factors: the uncertainty of the showbiz economy; the reluctance to strike by members who are working; and painful memories of the five-month 1988 strike, which delayed the start of the fall TV season.

The WGA has issued a brief description of last week’s bargaining topics, citing health fund, residuals, jurisdiction, late pay, one-draft deals, rewrites, made-for-pay TV, reacquisition, separated rights, sequel and character payments, credits and daytime TV.

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