LOS ANGELES (New York Times) Feb. 9 — An end to Hollywood’s long and bitter writers’ strike appeared close on Saturday, as union leaders representing some 12,000 movie and television writers said they had reached a tentative deal with production companies.
The strike, which began Nov. 5, remains in effect until the governing boards of the two writers’ guilds formally review the agreement and decide whether to end the walkout. The boards are expected to meet as early as Sunday, and the strike could be over by Monday morning.
A resolution would be good news for the producers, who have been patching together prime-time schedules with reruns and reality shows and had delayed their feature film plans. It would also bring relief to the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, which was nervously making plans for an Oscar night without writers.
Word of the tentative deal came Saturday in an early morning e-mail message to members of the Writers Guild of America West and the Writers Guild of America East. The deal was to be reviewed by members at mass meetings here and in New York later in the day.
In their e-mail message, Patric M. Verrone, president of the West Coast guild, and Michael Winship, his East Coast counterpart, said: “Much has been achieved, and while this agreement is neither perfect nor perhaps all that we deserve for the countless hours of hard work and sacrifice, our strike has been a success.”
While approval appears likely, members have warily debated the expected agreement all week, and are certain to scrutinize the details closely at the Saturday meetings.
A guild spokesman on Saturday morning declined to confirm plans for Sunday board meetings.
The walkout, Hollywood’s longest since writers struck for five months in 1988, closed down dozens of television shows, slowed development of feature films and threw tens of thousands of people out of work.
Writers had demanded a much bigger share of returns from new media than they had received in the past from the distribution of shows on older media like cassettes and DVDs, as well as expanded jurisdiction over reality television and animated features.
Company representatives initially responded by insisting on a complete revamping of Hollywood’s time-honored residuals system, under which writers, directors, actors and others are paid for reuse of their work on television and home video.
As the more expansive demands for wider jurisdiction and a narrowing of residuals were dropped, the sides were finally left with a more conventional negotiation that turned on precise amounts that would be paid in the next three years for growing digital distribution of shows.
The tentative agreement became possible when the sides reached a handshake deal last week on a crucial term under which writers would be paid a fixed residual amounting to about $1,300 for the right to stream a television program online. In the third year of their contract, the writers would achieve one of their major goals — payments amounting to 2 percent of the distributor’s revenue from such streams.
The percentage formula is viewed by many writers as protection against the possibility that traditional television reruns — which have paid them residuals amounting to tens of thousands of dollars per episode in the past — will disappear because of Web streams in the near future.
The tentative agreement resulted from a weeklong, and sometimes heated, exchange of contractual provisions, following informal talks between guild and companies leaders over the last several weeks. The informal talks began immediately after companies reached a deal with the Directors Guild of America last month, pointing toward solutions that helped resolve the dispute with writers.
Television viewers began seeing the effects of the strike firsthand in the last few weeks, as scripted shows faded further into reruns and networks started promoting reality shows like “American Gladiators” on NBC that do not employ guild writers. The Golden Globes ceremony, a showy precursor to the Oscars, was reduced to a news conference when actors agreed to not cross picket lines.
The Oscars themselves — a giant billboard for the film industry that doubles as one of the biggest advertising events of the year — looked to be in trouble because of the strike. Producers will be anxiously watching how the unions react to the tentative deal to see if the Academy can avoid the fate of the Golden Globes and air a full broadcast, with writers no doubt contributing many jokes about their own situation.
Late last week, producers of the network’s late-night talk shows plotted their return to normalcy — possible good news for hosts who have been improvising night after night. “Everybody is telling everybody to come in Monday,” Jeff Ross, the executive producer of “Late Night With Conan O’Brien” on NBC, said Friday.
Other late-night shows have been making similar plans. An NBC spokeswoman said that writers for the “Tonight Show With Jay Leno” will be invited back on Monday to lighten the load on the host, Jay Leno, who, despite protest from the guild, said he had permission to write all the show’s comedy material himself — replacing the staff of 19 who usually perform that task.
The one NBC late-night show that has been dark for the entire duration of the strike, “Saturday Night Live,” may have its writers back working as early as Monday, but the show is not scheduled to return to the air for another two weeks.
Comedy Central’s late-night shows, “The Daily Show With Jon Stewart” and “The Colbert Report” with Stephen Colbert, are both “prepared to welcome writers with open arms Monday,” said Steve Albani, a spokesman for the channel. “We’re so ready for them to come back.”
Not so fast. NPR is reporting that the rank and file may not be happy with this deal, that not enough concessions have been made. Stay tuned…