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LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - The heads of Hollywood's film and TV studios signed a statement of unity on Sunday, a day after striking screenwriters signaled they would try a "divide and conquer" strategy in an increasingly bitter strike that is paralyzing the industry.
The Writers Guild of America, representing 10,500 scribes, will demand on Monday that members of the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers, the studios' bargaining arm, negotiate individually.
During the weekend, a small chink appeared to develop in the studios' armor when talk show host David Letterman's production company said it hoped to negotiate an "interim agreement" deal with the guild soon, sidestepping CBS, which airs the show.
An interim agreement in labor talks generally provides that both sides will abide by terms of a contract to which the contract's negotiating parties eventually agree.
But, signaling the industry remains firmly united, eight corporate chieftains put their names to a simple banner statement on the AMPTP Web site: "Different assets... Different businesses... Different companies... One common goal. To reach a fair and just agreement with writers and get back to work."
Among the signatories was Letterman's boss, CBS Corp. president and chief executive Leslie Moonves. He was joined by Peter Chernin, president and chief operating officer of 20th Century Fox parent News Corp; Brad Grey, Chairman of Viacom Inc's Paramount Pictures; Robert Iger, president and chief executive of Walt Disney Co; Michael Lynton, chairman and chief executive of Sony Corp's Sony Pictures; Barry Meyer, chairman and chief executive of Time Warner Inc's Warner Bros; Harry Sloan, chairman and chief executive of privately held Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer; and Jeff Zucker, president and chief executive of General Electric Co's NBC Universal Inc.
A spokesman for Letterman's company, WorldWide Pants, noted the company is an independent producer and can sign an interim deal outside the talks between the writers guild and the producers alliance. The company also produces "The Late Late Show with Craig Ferguson," on CBS.
The guild has called a meeting of its rank-and-file members on Monday. The writers went on strike for the first time in almost two decades on November 5.
The guild said it has a legal right to demand individual negotiations. "Bargaining on a multi-employer basis through the AMPTP is an option for the WGA, not a legal requirement," it said in a letter to its members on Saturday.
"Each signatory employer is required to bargain with us individually if we make a legal demand that it do so. We will make this demand on Monday, December 17th, and hope that each company responds promptly, in accordance with the law."
The walkout has crippled the television industry and is starting to disrupt production of some major films. For audiences, the most apparent effect so far has been on late night viewing since the work stoppage immediately threw Letterman and other late night scripted talk shows into reruns.
Production on scripted prime-time and daytime shows has also ground to a near halt, and starting in January many of those programs will be forced into reruns or taken off air in favor of reality TV shows that are not subject to a guild agreement.
Reporting by Sue Zeidler and Bob Tourtellotte; editing by Mohammad Zargham