Tentative Deal Reached in Writers Strike

The presidents of the Writers Guild of America on Saturday announced a tentative deal in the monthslong strike that had put on hold the production of new programs and had caused the cancellation of awards shows and threatened others.

"It is an agreement that protects a future in which the Internet becomes the primary means of both content creation and delivery," Patric Verrone and Michael Winship said in an e-mail to members.

The most contentious issue in the talks was residual payments for TV programs and movies distributed on the Internet.

"Within the next five years, most American televisions will be connected to the Internet. The shows and movies you watch on your TV will be downloaded or streamed," the union said in its strike fact sheet.

Click here to read the entire letter at the United Hollywood blogspot.

If the deal is cemented, the union could quickly lift its strike order, allowing dozens of TV shows to return to production and putting thousands of actors, crew members and others back to work as early as Monday.

"Much has been achieved, and 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," wrote Verrone and Winship, the presidents of the Writers Guild of America, West, and Writers Guild of America, East, respectively. The guilds represent 12,000 members, with about 10,000 affected by the strike.

An end to the strike might also salvage the Feb. 24 Academy Awards show, which is facing a possible boycott by writers and sympathetic actors. The writers union has given a picket-free pass to Sunday's Grammy Awards.

Talks were to continue on Saturday in New York and Los Angeles behind closed doors.

If guild members react favorably to the proposed deal, the guild's board could vote Sunday to lift the strike order and the industry could be up and running Monday. This month's Oscars ceremony, which has been under the cloud of a union and actors boycott, also would be a winner.

Sunday's Grammy Awards ceremony has a picket-free pass from the union.

An outline of the three-year deal was reached in recent talks between media executives and the guild, with lawyers then drafting the contract language that was concluded Friday.

According to the guild's summary, the deal provides union jurisdiction over projects created for the Internet based on certain guidelines, sets compensation for streamed, ad-supported programs and increases residuals for downloaded movies and TV programs.

The writers deal is similar to one reached last month by the Directors Guild of America, including a provision that compensation for ad-supported streaming doesn't kick in until after a window of between 17 to 24 days deemed "promotional" by the studios.

Writers would get a maximum $1,200 flat fee for streamed programs in the deal's first two years and then get a percentage of a distributor's gross in year three — the last point an improvement on the directors deal, which remains at the flat payment rate.

The guild and the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers, which represents studios, have not publicly commented on the proposed contract because of a joint media blackout.

One observer said the guild gained ground in the deal but not as much as it wanted.

"It's a mixed deal but far better than the writers would have been able to get three months ago. The strike was a qualified success," said Jonathan Handel, an entertainment attorney with the TroyGould firm and a former associate counsel for the writers guild.

The walkout "paved the way for the directors to get a better deal than they would otherwise have gotten. That in turn became the foundation for further improvements the writers achieved," Handel said.

In conclusion, the presidents wrote: "We must fight to get decent working conditions and benefits for writers of reality TV, animation, and any other genre in which writers do not have a WGA contract."

The Associated Press contributed to this report.