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LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Union leaders for striking Hollywood writers said they have reached a tentative contract deal with studios and urged members on Saturday to support it, calling for an end to a three-month walkout that has crippled TV production and overshadowed Oscar season.
The breakthrough was announced via e-mail to the 10,500 members of the Writers Guild of America (WGA) who launched the union's first strike in almost 20 years on November 5 in a dispute centering on compensation for work distributed over the Internet.
"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," WGA West president Patric Verrone and WGA East president Michael Winship said in the memo.
The union held closed-door meetings in New York and Los Angeles on Saturday to review terms of the deal with rank-and-file members and to gauge their response.
If reaction from union members is positive, the governing boards of the WGA's East and West Coast branches are expected to move quickly to formally endorse the pact and order striking writers back to work while the deal is submitted to them for ratification, a process that normally takes about 10 days.
In that case, board action to lift the strike would probably come on Sunday, and writers could be back on the job as early as Monday.
"We believe that continuing the strike now will not bring sufficient gains to outweigh the potential risks and that the time has come to accept this contract and settle the strike," the union leaders wrote.
The mood of WGA members emerging from a three-hour meeting in New York was upbeat.
"We're optimistic. We really want to get back to work," said Jon Robin Baitz, a noted New York playwright and creator of the ABC show "Brothers & Sisters."
"There's a tremendous positive sense that we've really accomplished something, added writer John Simmons. "I don't think we could have expected anything better."
The WGA memo said the tentative deal "creates formulas for revenue-based residuals in new media, provides access to deals and financial data to help us evaluate and enforce those formulas, and establishes the principle that, 'When they get paid, we get paid."'
The writers' deal is modeled largely on a separate labor pact for Hollywood directors that helped pave the way for the studios and the WGA to resume bargaining on January 23, after weeks of stalemate.
Both deals essentially double the re-use fees, or "residuals," paid for TV shows and films sold as Internet downloads, from about 0.3 percent of a distributor's gross revenues to roughly 0.7 percent.
But the WGA gained a modest improvement over the directors' deal on the key issue of paying writers for ad-supported online streaming of television shows.
A spokesman for the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers, the bargaining arm of the studios, declined to comment.
The strike has thrown the U.S. television industry into turmoil, derailed several movie productions and idled thousands of entertainment workers, from actors and directors to hairstylists, set designers and clerks.
The Los Angeles Economic Development Corp. has estimated the strike has cost the region's film and TV industry at least $650 million in wages, with over $1 billion more in lost earnings attributed to the ripple effect on the local economy.
The strike also has overshadowed the entertainment industry's annual awards season, even threatening to spoil the Oscars show later this month. Last month's Golden Globes awards ceremony was canceled after the actors' union said it would refuse to cross the writers' picket line.
The last major strike to hit Hollywood, a walkout by screenwriters in 1988, lasted 22 weeks and delayed the start of that year's fall television season.
Additional reporting by Chris Michaud in New York; Editing by Stuart Grudgings