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Striking Hollywood Writers Mull New Contract

Film and TV writers who've been on strike for nearly a month are mulling a new contract offer from Hollywood studios.

Producers said the offer they presented Thursday, dubbed the "New Economic Partnership," would pay writers millions of dollars extra for work shown on the Internet, a central issue in negotiations.

The writers asked for a recess in the talks until Tuesday to consider their options, but called on members to continue picketing Friday and Monday.

The Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers said it was willing to offer $130 million in extra pay over the life of the proposed three-year deal. The offer is "above and beyond the more than $1.3 billion writers already receive each year," the alliance said in a statement.

The Writers Guild of America countered with a lengthy response, saying the producers' proposal only dealt with advertising-supported programs streamed for free and jurisdiction over shows created for the Web "and it amounts to a massive rollback."

The writers said their plan, also presented Thursday, would cost producers $151 million over three years.

"That's a little over a 3 percent increase in writer earnings each year, while company revenues are projected to grow at a rate of 10 percent," the statement said. "We are falling behind."

No further details of the terms were released in the first statements since both sides imposed a media blackout Monday.

The conflicting details and tone of the statements is confusing, said Jonathan Handel, an entertainment lawyer who served in the 1990s as an associate counsel for the writers guild.

"None of this computes," he said. "It's very difficult to analyze this in any rigorous way."

The tone of the writers' statement seems angry, Handel said, while the producers' statement seemed more upbeat.

He said both sides should end the confusion by publishing the full details of the proposals.

Meanwhile, about 30 protesting writers converged on NBC's studios in suburban Burbank on Thursday night to rally against restarted production of the late-night show "Last Call With Carson Daly."

Several people said Daly circled the lot before entering a gate with no pickets.

"Last Call" was the first late-night show to resume production since the strike began on Nov. 5. The walkout has also idled production on many scripted television series.

Daly has defended the move, saying he still supports the writers but did not want to see all 75 members of his staff and crew lose their jobs because of the work stoppage.

Conan O'Brien has promised to cover the salaries of about 75 nonstriking "Late Night" staffers next week, an NBC spokeswoman said Thursday.

"He's paying the staffers' salaries out of his own pocket," Rebecca Marks said.

Through this week, NBC had been covering the salaries of its nonwriting staffers, along with those of "The Tonight Show with Jay Leno" and "Last Call," which are also in reruns.

But the network thus far has not said whether it intends to continue paying employees of any show on hiatus. All three programs are owned by Universal Media Studios, which, like NBC, is owned by General Electric.

About two weeks ago, staffers of CBS's "Late Show with David Letterman" and "Late Late Show with Craig Ferguson" were promised continued payment at least through December by Letterman, whose production company, Worldwide Pants, owns both shows. They continue in reruns.

Staffers for "Jimmy Kimmel Live!" continue to be paid by ABC, according to a network spokesperson.

As news of the producers' new offer went around, the protesters gave their initial impressions.

"It's sad that the producers aren't coming forward with a real offer," said David Grae, a writer for "Gilmore Girls."

David Kidd, a screenwriter from Glendale, said he was hopeful, but not overly optimistic, about what he described as an apparent "sweet offer" from producers.

"I don't know what sweet is until I taste it," Kidd said. "Nobody wants to go in and accept a bad offer."