Striking Writers, Studios Head for Renewed Talks

Striking Hollywood writers will meet face to face with studio executives this week for the first time since their contract talks collapsed on Dec. 7, the two sides said Tuesday.


The Writers Guild of America and the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers will open "informal discussions" Wednesday to "determine if there is a basis for both parties to return to formal negotiations," the union and studios said in a joint statement.

In a separate open letter to their members, WGA leaders added that in the interest of "bringing a speedy conclusion to negotiations" they were abandoning two union proposals vigorously opposed by the studios.

Both sides said they would adhere to a media blackout until those talks are concluded. Industry sources familiar with the matter said earlier that the latest discussions were aimed at reaching agreement on the broad outlines of a possible settlement of the strike, now in its 12th week.

News Corp. President Peter Chernin and Walt Disney 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 contract deal between the studios and the Directors Guild of America.

The DGA deal announced after two weeks of informal talks and six days of full-fledged bargaining included provisions to pay union members more for work distributed over the Internet -- a key sticking point in stalled talks with the writers.

It remained to be seen whether the writers regard the directors' 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."

Some 10,500 screenwriters walked off the job on Nov. 5 in a contract dispute that has thrown the U.S. television industry into disarray, derailed movie productions and overshadowed Hollywood's year-end awards season.

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 demands as a condition for continued bargaining.

In announcing plans to resume talks, the Writers Guild said it would drop two of those proposals -- seeking to extend contract coverage to writers who work in reality TV and animation.

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."