Possible Deal May End Writers' Strike

Credit: CNN

Hollywood writers got their first look Saturday at details of a tentative agreement with studios that could put the strike-crippled entertainment industry back to work.

Writers Guild of America members picket in front of NBC studios in Burbank, California, on Friday.

A summary of the proposed deal was posted on the Writers Guild of America’s Web site hours before members were to attend meetings on the East and West Coasts to voice their opinions.

The writers planned to gather behind closed doors Saturday afternoon in New York and later in Los Angeles to consider the deal that guild leaders said “protects a future in which the Internet becomes the primary means of both content creation and delivery.”

Compensation for projects delivered via digital media was the central issue in the 3-month-old walkout, which idled thousands of workers, disrupted the TV season and movie making and took the shine off Hollywood’s awards season.

If members of the Writers Guild of America react favorably to the proposed deal, the guild’s board could vote Sunday to lift the strike order and the industry could be up and running Monday. This month’s Oscars ceremony, which has been under the cloud of a union and actors boycott, also would be a winner.

Sunday’s Grammy Awards ceremony has a picket-free pass from the union.

An outline of the three-year deal was reached in recent talks between media executives and the guild, with lawyers then drafting the contract language that was concluded Friday.

According to the guild’s summary, the deal provides union jurisdiction over projects created for the Internet based on certain guidelines, sets compensation for streamed, ad-supported programs and increases residuals for downloaded movies and TV programs.

The writers deal is similar to one reached last month by the Directors Guild of America, including a provision that compensation for ad-supported streaming doesn’t kick in until after a window of between 17 to 24 days deemed “promotional” by the studios.

Writers would get a maximum $1,200 flat fee for streamed programs in the deal’s first two years and then get a percentage of a distributor’s gross in year three — the last point an improvement on the directors deal, which remains at the flat payment rate.

“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,” guild leaders Patric Verrone and Michael Winship said in an e-mailed message to members.

Verrone is president of the Writers Guild of America, West, while Winship heads the smaller Writers Guild of America, East, which together represent 12,000 members. About 10,000 have been affected by the strike.

The guild and the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers, which represents studios, have not publicly commented on the proposed contract because of a joint media blackout.

One observer said the guild gained ground in the deal but not as much as it wanted.

“It’s a mixed deal but far better than the writers would have been able to get three months ago. The strike was a qualified success,” said Jonathan Handel, an entertainment attorney with the Troy Gould firm and a former associate counsel for the writers guild.

The walkout “paved the way for the directors to get a better deal than they would otherwise have gotten. That in turn became the foundation for further improvements the writers achieved,” Handel said.

A quick end to the walkout might result in TV viewers seeing a more new episodes of their favorite shows this season. A script takes about three weeks to write and about 40 working days to produce, so it could take as long as two months for the first new shows to air, Leight said.

But once a production has scripts and is up and running, episodes are worked on concurrently and an hour-long show can be produced within eight days, he said.

That could allow an hour-long drama to return with perhaps a half-dozen new episodes, and a half-hour comedy to squeeze in as many as seven new shows for the rest of the season.

Networks, however, are likely to pick and choose among shows, with low-rated newcomers less likely to get deals for more episodes than a series like Grey’s Anatomy, which has a big, faithful audience.