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The congloms will take their first step next week toward returning to the bargaining table with SAG under the supervision of a federal mediator.

The Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers is set to meet next Thursday with mediator Juan Carlos Gonzalez, according to a source close to the studios. No date’s been set for actual resumption of the long-stalled negotiations, however.

As expected, the AMPTP announced Thursday that it had agreed to the Screen Actors Guild request that both sides meet with Gonzalez with the goal of relaunching negotiations.

SAG national exec director Doug Allen said in response, “We look forward to meeting with the federal mediator and the AMPTP committee as soon as possible.”

The two sides — which have remained far apart in many areas, particularly new media — last met officially on July 16.

The AMPTP left little doubt that it’s not budging from its final offer, made June 30 as SAG’s feature-primetime contract expired. The org, which serves as the bargaining arm for the congloms, noted that it’s reached deals with the WGA, DGA and AFTRA and added that SAG’s insisted that it must receive sweeter terms.

“It will be very difficult to reach an agreement if SAG continues to insist unreasonably that it deserves a better deal than the ones achieved by the other entertainment guilds during far better economic times,” the AMPTP said.

The congloms have warned in recent months that they may reduce the value of the final offer due to the souring economy.

“The producers have demonstrated our willingness to bargain reasonably,” it said. “So far this year, we have reached four major labor agreements, and each one of these agreements has required compromise after compromise on our part. We have also offered compromises to SAG already in a package that includes more than $250 million in economic gains and ground-breaking new-media rights.”

SAG’s disputed that figure as too high, and its top leaders haven’t backed off their stance that the final offer falls short, particularly in new media.

In the meantime, studios and nets have continued to bet that SAG won’t strike amid the economic downturn. Feature film production will see a major increase early next year as studios begin filling out their 2010 slates (Daily Variety, Oct. 8).

Stats released Thursday by the FilmL.A. permitting agency showed that third-quarter off-lot feature production slid 37% to 1,181 days while TV jumped 17% to 6,959. The feature number was the lowest since record-keeping began in 1994, reflecting the uncertainty over SAG.

“Most major-studio feature films still shooting during the quarter completed production by the end of July, and only a few sought permits to film on-location in August and September,” noted FilmL.A. veep Todd Lindgren.

TV production, however, posted its second highest quarter ever, trailing only the second quarter’s total of 8,469 when the biz rebounded from the WGA strike. Dramas rose 23% and reality gained 14%, while sitcoms slid 7% and pilots dropped 45%.

SAG’s national board held off last weekend on conducting a strike authorization vote in favor of seeking a mediator — possibly a reflection of the shift in control of the board following last month’s election, which saw a more moderate faction emerge with a narrow majority.

SAG’s national board also decided last weekend that if the guild’s negotiating committee determines that the new round of talks has failed, the negotiating committee would then have the power to ask SAG members for a strike authorization — a process that would take 30-45 days and require more than 75% of members voting to approve for a strike to occur. The national board would have the final decision on a work stoppage.

In a postcard survey last month, more than 87% of8 10,298 SAG members who responded endorsed the guild’s position of holding out for a better deal.