- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 3, 2001

Hollywood screenwriters and studios continued to negotiate a new labor contract yesterday, a sign they could avoid a strike that threatens to halt most film and television production.

Representatives for the Writers Guild of America and the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers resumed talks in Los Angeles, following up on a 17-hour marathon session Tuesday.

Both sides have imposed a news blackout. Guild spokeswoman Cheryl Rhoden said the union is "working very hard to reach an agreement" but would not comment further.

The existing contract, which covers 11,500 writers, remains in effect even though it officially expired at midnight Tuesday, Ms. Rhoden said.

Extending the talks beyond the Tuesday deadline is a sign the two sides are closer to a deal, according to Alan M. Brunswick, a Los Angels labor lawyer and former attorney for the studio alliance.

"The fact that they're still talking indicates they're making progress," he said.

Negotiations began in February, but broke off a few weeks later. When talks resumed April 17, the two sides were roughly $100 million apart in a dispute over "residuals" the royalties screenwriters make from the sale of films and shows overseas and for cable, videos and DVDs.

The Screen Actors Guild is also seeking higher residuals and has set a June 30 deadline to renew its contract with the studio alliance. Since residuals are the main sticking point for both unions, the writers and actors have indicated they may try to bolster their bargaining power with simultaneous strikes.

That could bring the $92 billion-a-year film and television industry to a standstill, according to analysts.

Conversely, a deal between the writers and the studios could reduce chances of an actors' strike, analysts believe. Hollywood often uses a "pattern bargaining" system, which means one guild's deal serves as the basis for other unions.

"Obviously, we don't live in a vacuum. There are going to be lessons to be learned for us no matter what happens," said Greg Krizman, spokesman for the Screen Actors Guild.

The last writers' strike in 1988 lasted more than five months and delayed the start of the fall television season several weeks.

This year, movie studios have prepared for possible strikes by stockpiling new films, but analysts believe it would be tougher for the broadcast television networks to offer fresh programming.

If either strike lasted longer than three months, new episodes of most situation comedies and dramas could not be produced, which is likely to result in more repeats and reality shows like "Survivor" when the new television season begins in September.

The networks are scheduled to introduce their prime-time fall lineups to advertisers in two weeks. Broadcasters have said they are considering two schedules, one heavy with sitcoms and dramas if strikes don't occur, and one with reality shows if there are walkouts.

"They have been moving forward, business as usual. They will be prepared for anything," said Stacey Lynn Koerner, an analyst for New York television research firm TN Media Inc.

In Washington, a strike would bring a burgeoning film and television industry to a temporary halt, according to Cheryl Palmer, director of the D.C. Office of Motion Picture and Television Development.

Two shows, "The West Wing" and "The District," film scenes in Washington once or twice a year. The networks are considering adding at least three other prime-time series also expected to shoot in the District occasionally, she said.


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