January 22, 2008 / 11:53 PM / 10 years ago

Striking writers, studios head for renewed talks

<p>Picketers from the Writers Guild Of America demonstrate in front of the studio where "The Daily Show" is filmed in New York, January 7, 2008. Striking Hollywood writers will meet face to face with studio executives this week for the first time since their contract talks collapsed on December 7, people familiar with the matter said on Tuesday.Lucas Jackson</p>

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Striking Hollywood writers will meet face to face with studio executives this week for the first time since their contract talks collapsed on December 7, people familiar with the matter said on Tuesday.

Studio chiefs and leaders of the Writers Guild of America planned to open informal discussions late Tuesday or Wednesday aimed at sketching the broad outlines of a possible settlement of the strike, now in its 12th week, the sources said.

News Corp. President Peter Chernin and Walt Disney Co. President Robert Iger were expected to take the lead in those talks for management, as they did in unofficial discussions that paved the way for last week's deal between the studios and the Directors Guild of America.

Some 10,500 screenwriters walked off the job on November 5, shattering 20 years of Hollywood labor peace and throwing the U.S. television industry into disarray, derailing movie productions and overshadowing the year-end awards season.

In the case of the Directors Guild, union leaders held about two weeks of informal conversations with studio executives before the two sides started official bargaining on January 12.

The deal they announced in six days included provisions to pay union members more for work distributed over the Internet -- a key sticking point in stalled contract talks with the writers.

It remained to be seen whether the writers regard the directors' three-year labor pact as a template for their own deal. The WGA said it was still reviewing the directors' contract.

But the writers and studios were at least, after months of failed on-and-off bargaining, emulating a negotiating model used by the directors.

"I expect this to go the way the DGA went," one source close to the situation told Reuters. "They'll engage in informal discussions until they have a basic framework, and then go into formal discussions to finish the details."

The last round of negotiations between the writers and studios broke down more than six weeks ago when the WGA refused the studios' demand to withdraw several union proposals as a condition for continued bargaining.

While new-media provisions in the directors' deal fell short of increases sought by the writers, the DGA pact drew a rave review from an influential member of the Writers Guild, past president and leading TV producer John Wells.

"This is a historic deal," Wells ("ER," "The West Wing") wrote in an e-mail letter posted last Friday on the Internet blog of writer-director Craig Mazin.

Wells credited the writers strike with putting the necessary pressure on studios to make a deal that he called "very good ... for writers, for directors, for the future."

In comments to the Los Angeles Times, Scott Frank, a screenwriter behind such films as "Out of Sight" and "Minority Report," likewise called the DGA pact "a deal good enough to put the whole town back to work."

Reuters/Nielsen

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