Strike rhetoric heats up as Hollywood talks resume

LOS ANGELES Tue Oct 9, 2007 5:08pm EDT

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LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Hollywood screenwriters and studio executives returned to the bargaining table on Tuesday for their seventh round of face-to-face contract talks since July as strike rhetoric from both sides intensified.

The last negotiating session on Friday ended after just 45 minutes with the Writers Guild of America and the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers agreeing only that little or no progress had been made.

The two camps remain sharply divided over the decades-old formula by which TV and film writers earn "residual" payments when their work goes beyond an initial broadcast or theatrical release and into secondary markets such as reruns and DVDs.

The union is demanding greater compensation for writers whose work is distributed through the Internet and other digital platforms. The studios want to overhaul the system to withhold residuals of any kind until after production, development, distribution and marketing costs are recouped.

The current three-year contract covering the guild's 12,000 members expires October 31, and union leaders have said they are seeking authority from the rank-and-file to call a strike if no deal is reached by then.

"A strike on November 1 is a real option," Patric Verrone, president of the guild's West Coast branch, was quoted as saying in Tuesday's edition of the entertainment newspaper Daily Variety. "We're hoping that possibility will get companies to negotiate seriously."

But the producers' lead negotiator, Nick Counter, said the industry was well-prepared for the possibility of a walkout.

"The companies all have contingencies and will be ready in the event a strike occurs," he told Variety. Last Friday he called the guild "hidebound to strike," saying the two sides were "farther apart today than when we started."

LOOMING STRIKE?

Studios and TV networks have been treating the end of the month as a de facto strike deadline as they stockpile scripts and speed up production on some projects as a precaution.

Hollywood screenwriters last walked off the job in 1988 in a 22-week strike that delayed the fall TV season and cost the industry a reported $500 million.

A November strike would have the greatest immediate impact on television. Although producers for most shows have enough episodes done to get through mid-January, many series would be forced to halt production if a strike wore on into February.

That would be particularly perilous for lower-rated shows, which would face the prospect of having their broadcast runs disrupted while struggling to find an audience, making them more vulnerable to early cancellation.

Carl DiOrio, who covers labor issues for show business paper The Hollywood Reporter said TV networks might also fill some programming gaps with a higher-than-usual quotient of reality TV and sports, which are not subject to the labor talks.

Movie studios, meanwhile, are said to have already imposed a moratorium on unsolicited scripts, having stockpiled all the new screenplays they can handle for the time being.

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