LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Days after sounding a brief note of conciliation, studios and striking screenwriters reverted to public finger-pointing on Friday as Hollywood's worst labor confrontation in two decades neared the end of its fifth week.
In an exchange of statements circulated to the media, each side accused the other of foot-dragging in contract talks that have bogged down in disagreement over how much the writers should be paid for work that is used on the Internet.
The Writers Guild of America went so far as to suggest some studios were willing to follow a kind of scorched-earth strategy that would inflict further damage on a television industry already thrown into disarray.
"We've heard that one or more of the companies are prepared to throw away the spring and fall TV season, plus features, and prolong the strike," WGA leaders said in their statement.
Studio insiders said they knew of no companies contemplating such a move. They denied union assertions the studios might be preparing to abruptly cut off the talks, and accuse the WGA of precipitating a collapse.
"If the talks do crumble, they want to point their fingers at us and blame us," one source told Reuters.
The latest public relations duel erupted as the WGA and the studios, represented by the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers, met for a fourth straight day of negotiations at an undisclosed Los Angeles hotel.
It remained unclear whether the parties would continue to bargain through the weekend.
Two days ago, the WGA sparked a flicker of optimism with an upbeat statement saying the parties had engaged in "substantive discussions of the issues important to writers" for the first time since negotiations began in July.
The AMPTP had also struck a more cordial tone in recent statements, declaring its proposals were not meant as "take-it-or-leave-it" offers and the two sides could find common ground.
But Friday's round of bad-mouthing indicated the two sides remained far from a deal.
The strike, which began on November 5, has halted production on dozens of TV shows, including most of the major networks' prime-time series, as well as several movies. Thousands of non-writing film and TV workers have been idled, along with the 10,500 WGA members on picket lines.
An earlier four-day round of talks broke off last Thursday with the WGA harshly criticizing a new set of studio proposals, dimming hopes for a settlement by Christmas.
Meanwhile, a group of more than 300 filmmakers, most of whom are Writers Guild members, have asked the Directors Guild of America to hold off on launching its own contract talks with studios while the WGA remains in negotiations.
The DGA is widely seen as more sympathetic to the studios and less militant than the Writers Guild, whose negotiating position could be undermined if the AMPTP strikes a deal first with the directors. The DGA contract expires next June.
A union spokeswoman said the writer-directors made their request in a letter delivered to the DGA on Thursday. Signatories included such leading filmmakers as Joel and Ethan Coen, Ed Zwick, Lawrence Kasdan and Sean Penn.
The DGA spokeswoman said the AMPTP had not approached the Directors Guild about starting early contract talks.