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By Steve Gorman
LOS ANGELES Nov 28 A televised debate set for next month among the Democratic presidential candidates was canceled on Wednesday due to a labor dispute between Hollywood studios and striking screenwriters, organizers said.
The decision by the Democratic National Committee (DNC) came after several candidates said they would not cross picket lines of the Writers Guild of America, which has been on strike against major film and television studios since Nov. 5.
All eight Democrats running for the White House originally had agreed to take part in a debate scheduled for Dec. 10 at the CBS Television City studio in Los Angeles, where striking writers have been picketing.
The canceled event would have been the last DNC-sanctioned debate before the Jan. 3 Iowa caucuses, the first of the state-by-state contests to determine which Republican and Democrat will face off in the Nov. 4, 2008, general election.
The debate, which was to have been moderated by CBS News anchor Katie Couric, was planned for live broadcast on a sub-network of at least six West Coast affiliates of CBS as well as nationally on C-Span political cable network.
But the event got caught in a confluence of two contract disputes involving the Writers Guild of America (WGA).
CBS Corp. (CBSa.N) is one of several major media companies being struck by WGA-represented screenwriters in the most serious labor crisis to hit Hollywood in nearly 20 years.
The two sides met again on Wednesday for the third bargaining session since the walkout began nearly three weeks ago in a dispute that hinges on how much writers should be paid for work that gets distributed over the Internet.
In a separate labor clash, CBS News writers, producers and editors represented by the WGA East recently approved a strike against the network through an authorization vote, though no work stoppage has been declared.
"Due to uncertainty created by the ongoing labor dispute between CBS and the Writers Guild of America, the DNC has canceled the December 10th debate in Los Angeles," the party said in a statement. "There are no plans to reschedule."
CBS added in its own statement: "The possibility of picket lines ... and the unwillingness of many candidates to cross them made it necessary to allow the candidates to make other plans."
Sources close to the situation at CBS News said the network and DNC had asked the Writers Guild for assurances that CBS studios would not be picketed on Dec. 10 in order to let the debate proceed but never got a firm answer from the union.
The DNC-sponsored event is the latest of several presidential debates canceled in recent weeks, most of them because not enough candidates were willing to participate.
There was no immediate comment from the Writers Guild.
(Editing by Dan Whitcomb and Cynthia Osterman)
UPDATE 2-'Operation Weak Flesh' takes bite out of Brazil's meat exports
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