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Striking Writers Reach Tentative Deal with Union

Union leaders for striking Hollywood writers said they have reached a tentative contract deal with studios and urged members 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 Nov. 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.

Members were scheduled to meet in New York at 2 p.m. EST and in Los Angeles at 10 p.m. EST to discuss specific terms, the ratification process and an end to the work stoppage, the union added.

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 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 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."'

Breakthrough

The writers' deal includes a number of Internet provisions that sweeten terms of an earlier labor pact for Hollywood directors that helped pave the way for the studios and the WGA to resume bargaining on Jan. 23, after weeks of stalemate. 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.

The deal announced on Saturday grew out of more than two weeks of intense negotiations between a small group of WGA leaders and the top executives of several major media companies, including News Corp President Peter Chernin and Walt Disney President Robert Iger.

Sources familiar with those talks have said a breakthrough was reached last week on the key issue of paying writers for advertising-supported online streaming of television shows.

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