WGA Contract Negotiations Down To The Wire As Possible Strike Looms

LOS ANGELES (CBSLA.com/AP) — The contract for television and film writers was nearing expiration late Monday night as avid negotiations continued and a costly strike looms that could send some popular television shows into reruns.

The writers contract expires at 12:01 a.m. PDT Tuesday and picketing could begin that morning. But with both sides observing a strict news blackout, there was no official indication of how close they are to a deal on key issues including compensation and health care.

The ongoing negotiations are encouraging but not a guarantee of an “acceptable deal,” according to a Sunday memo to guild members on behalf of WGA negotiators.

Members were advised to remain ready to strike as they await what should be “something substantive” on progress by Tuesday morning, the memo said.

Producers reportedly have agreed to contribute more to the guild’s health plan and increase earnings for writers working on series with fewer episodes.

The Writers Guild of America and the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers have been negotiating off and on since March 13 but have been unable to reach an agreement on a new contract.

“They want more compensation for doing more work than ever,” said Andy Wallenstein, co-editor in chief of Variety Magazine. “As you can see there’s so much scripted television on TV these days.”

Wallenstein told CBS2 Monday night that if the two sides cannot come to an agreement, the ripple effect a strike would have on many in the industry behind-the-scenes would be crippling.

“If productions halt to a crawl, so many different parts of the catering business, camera equipment, everyone is affected,” Wallenstein said.

WGA’s members overwhelmingly approved a strike late last month. A strike would immediately end the jokes and witty banter on late-night talk shows, and could eventually impact everything from daytime soap operas to major motion pictures in development.

In the memo, the writers’ negotiators warned to “be ready to strike Tuesday.”

“If you’ve got anything great in your office on a studio lot, consider packing it up on Monday — just in case,” it read.

The memo, though, also said negotiations could continue after the deadline.

A strike would be first work stoppage by writers in nearly a decade. In 2007 and early 2008, a 100 day writers strike halted productions on numerous shows, led to a shortened television season and even impacted major film releases.

“The strike of 2007-2008 cast a long shadow over the negotiations today,” Wallenstein said. “I don’t think either writers or studios want to go through with this. I think you’ll only see this happen if the writers feel they most absolutely have to.”

The changing nature of how television is delivered to viewers is a major reason for the impasse.

More than 400 series were available on broadcast, cable and rapidly expanding streaming platforms this season, double that of six years ago. But shows have fewer episodes than the roughly two dozen per season once common on network TV, and short runs of as few as eight to 12 episodes mean less money for writers getting paid on a per-episode basis.

Contracts binding writers exclusively to a series have cut into their compensation as well.

According to the WGA, which has about 12,000 members, median earnings for writers dropped between the 2013-14 and 2015-16 seasons, and more scribes are finding it difficult to make a living under current deals.

The guild is seeking a wage increase and wants salary minimums to apply equally to streaming, cable and broadcast. Health care, an issue that echoes beyond Hollywood, also is on the table. The two sides are at odds over what concessions the guild would make in return for producers contributing more to the health plan.

The film industry can better weather a shorter strike, but felt the impact of the 2007-08 strike. Several films, including “X-Men Origins: Wolverine” and “Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen” were affected and were met with poor reviews. Many of the filmmakers and stars involved later said the movies simply didn’t have the screenplay they needed.

That strike also affected numerous industries that support film and television production. A Milken Institute estimate found the strike cost the California economy $2.1 billion.

(© Copyright 2017 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

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