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With a writers strike looming, the federal government’s stepping in to mediate negotiations between the WGA and the companies after three months of unproductive bargaining.

The announcement came Friday evening after a day of negotiations concluded with no sign of significant progress. Talks will resume on Tuesday – just a day before the Writers Guild of America contract expires.

“We worked very hard to narrow the issues and reach an agreement but many issues remain unresolved,” said Nick Counter, president of the Alliance of Motion Picture & Television Producers. “We will meet on Tuesday with the federal mediator who has been assigned by the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service.”

Several hours later, the WGA issued a detailed statement that recapped a mostly unproductive bargaining session. The Guild said WGA reps agreed to several AMPTP proposals and withdrew or modifed several of its own proposals to narrow areas in dispute but accused the AMPTP of responding with new rollbacks in pension and health and rejection of the modified proposals.

The WGA also released an opening statement from WGA West exec director David Young, which stressed the importance of hammering out an agreement on new media.

“Every new technology or genre, instead of being treated as a new opportunity for mutual growth and benefit, is presented to us as some unfathomable obstacle that requires flexibility from writers–meaning a cheap deal that remains in place,” he said. “This happened with home video. It happened with basic cable. It has happened with Reality TV. Now you want it to happen with new media and the Internet.”

Talks began Friday morning with a small slice of optimism emerging from the relentless doom and gloom of contract talks. The session lasted most of the day and marked the first time both sides were able to engage in discussing the give-and-take of bargaining – rather than merely presenting proposals – but it’s believed the movements were fairly small.

Negotiators agreed to take the weekend and Monday off — even though that will leave scant time before the WGA’s contract expires at midnight Wednesday.

The decision to take a three-day break will underline the town’s growing certainty about the talks – that the WGA plans to take the talks down to the wire, when fears of a strike may push studios and nets to soften on contract issues in order to avert a work stoppage.

WGA leaders could telling its members to stop working and start picketing as early as next Thursday, should the talks fall apart. But if negotiators are making progress, writers would work under terms of the expired deal.

Studios and nets had presented a comprehensive package at Thursday’s session, taking parts of several proposals off the table with the goal of persuading the WGA to start coming off some of its 26 initital proposals. But the AMPTP also flatly told the WGA to forget about any gains for residuals for DVDs, the CW, MyNetworkTV or the pay television market.

Those moves left the WGA unimpressed as the guild asserted that the AMPTP had only made “minor adjustments to major rollbacks.”