Writers Guild Set to Announce Strike Details at Friday Press Conference

The Writers Guild of America will hold a press conference Friday to announce when it will go on strike, FOXNews.com has learned.

"We will hold a press conference calling for a strike. The strike will not begin today," Writers Guild of America spokeswoman Sherry Goldman said. "It is a last resort — we just want a new contract that compensates writers for their work in new media."

The guild board met Friday to decide when the strike would begin, but Goldman could not disclose when it would begin prior to the press conference.

Goldman confirmed that talk shows will be the first to feel the pain of the strike, as comedians like David Letterman are not permitted to write their own jokes, funny as that may sound.

"He technically cannot — he's a member of the guild. He may have a separate contract that says he has to show up for work, but he can't suddenly start writing content. He can show up and whistle," she said.

Hollywood writers who have long complained of being underpaid and getting little respect said Thursday they would go on strike for the first time in nearly 20 years to fight for a bigger piece of the television and movie industry action.

Writers Guild of America President Patric Verrone made the announcement in a closed-door session, drawing loud cheers from the crowd, several writers told The Associated Press.

"Where the membership stands could not be more clear," said Carlton Cuse, an executive producer of the television drama "Lost" and a member of the guild negotiating committee. "There was not a single dissenting voice in the room."

Nick Counter, president of the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers, said in a statement the alliance was not surprised by the action.

"We are ready to meet and are prepared to close this contract this weekend," he said.

After the meeting, Jeff Hermanson, assistant executive director of the WGA, West, was asked whether the delayed strike was a negotiating tactic.

Hermanson said he hoped the move would bring the alliance back to the table. "We hope they will come to their senses," he said.

Guild members recently authorized their negotiators to call the first strike since 1988. Officials had called a meeting of the union's 12,000 members Thursday night. About 3,000 attended.

Writers said the line of questioning inside the meeting wasn't whether the group was going to strike, but how it would be carried out. The mood was subdued as writers filed out of the building.

Janis Hirsch, a veteran TV writer, was among the 10 percent who voted against striking.

"It's sad, but I've got to support my union. At this point it makes sense," she said.

Many writers said that beyond royalties, respect was at stake. They said they had never commanded the same clout in the entertainment industry as actors and directors.

"I don't think it's something we can negotiate for," said Paul Guay, who co-wrote the movies "Liar, Liar" and "Heartbreakers." "What we can negotiate for is money. How we assess respect and worth in this town is money."

The strike will not immediately affect film or prime-time TV production. Most studios have stockpiled dozens of movie scripts, and TV shows have enough scripts or completed shows in hand to last until early next year.

The key financial issue in the talks involves changing the formula for paying writers a share of DVD revenue, then applying the same equation to money made from material offered over the Internet and other digital platforms.

Studios, represented by the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers, are dead set against increasing DVD royalties.

Writers and actors have been fighting for years to reverse what they see as a huge mistake made at the dawn of home video, when no one was sure if selling movies on VHS cassettes would ever make money.

The unions agreed to ignore the first 80 percent of revenue from the tapes and later DVDs, assuming most of the money represented the cost of manufacturing and distribution.

Writers settled for just 1.2 percent of the remaining 20 percent, a figure that amounts to about 3 cents on a DVD that retails for $20.

Writers are now asking for their share to be calculated on 40 percent of revenue and argue the same formula should be used for digital distribution because studios have almost no costs associated with that technology.

Consumers are expected to spend $16.4 billion on DVDs this year, according to Adams Media Research.

By contrast, studios could generate about $158 million from selling movies online and about $194 million from selling TV shows over the Web.

"Every incremental window of distribution has added revenue and profitability to the business model," said Anthony DiClemente, an entertainment analyst for Lehman Brothers Equity Research. "Digital is likely to be a positive thing for the studios."

Studios argue that it is too early to know how much money they can make from offering entertainment on the Internet, cell phones, iPods and other devices.

Producers are uncertain whether consumers prefer a pay-per-view model over an advertising-supported system. They want the economic flexibility to experiment as consumer habits change in reaction to technology.

The negotiations had revolved as much around emotions as economics, said Doug Wood, a partner with the law firm of Reed Smith who has negotiated with actors on behalf of advertising agencies.

"The industry negotiates form logic, and the creative community negotiates from emotion," he said. "Trying to understand those differences on both sides of the table is a big challenge in any of these negotiations."

The Associated Press contributed to this report.