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LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Hollywood's striking writers and its major studios made "significant progress" in recent talks aimed at ending their labor dispute, a source briefed on the discussions said on Saturday, raising hopes a settlement may be near.
Word of a breakthrough came as the Writers Guild of America strike neared its three-month mark and after 11 days of low-key contract talks that followed a separate labor deal between the studios and Hollywood directors.
The current writers' talks were initially conceived as "informal discussions" designed to sketch the outlines of a potential settlement and to lay a foundation for the resumption of full-scale bargaining that collapsed in acrimony on December 7.
But the latest sessions proved more fruitful than expected, evolving into substantive negotiations now expected to lead straight to a deal that would put the 10,500 striking writers back to work, the source said.
The person who was briefed on the talks but spoke on condition of anonymity because the individual was not authorized to talk on the record, told Reuters, "I know they made significant progress" on Friday. The source declined to give further details.
Any deal would have to be endorsed by the governing boards of the WGA's East and West Coast branches and ratified by the union's rank and file.
The chief sticking point in the labor dispute has been the question of how much writers should be compensated for work distributed over the Internet and other digital media.
The New York Times, citing unnamed sources, reported on Saturday the last major roadblocks to a deal had been eliminated and that a tentative accord could come as early as next week.
According to the Times, Friday's breakthrough was an agreement on payment of "residual" fees for the advertising-supported online streaming of television shows.
Hollywood's leading trade magazine, Daily Variety, reported that talks since Friday had been productive enough to generate cautious optimism a settlement may soon be at hand.
A representative for the studio's bargaining agent, the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers, declined to comment on the talks. Nor was there any comment from WGA spokesmen. Both sides have adhered to a strict media blackout since the latest round of talks began January 23.
WGA members walked off the job on November 5, four days after their old contract expired, shattering 20 years of Hollywood labor peace.
The work stoppage 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.
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 Bob Tourtellotte)