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Monday, February 11, 2008 - Page updated at 06:14 AM

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Hollywood Writers to Vote on Contract

AP Entertainment Writer

TV producers say they expect writers to return to work as early as Wednesday now that the Writers Guild of America has moved to end its three-month-old strike.

On Sunday, guild leaders recommended a tentative three-year contract to members and asked them to vote separately on a quick end to the walkout.

Membership meetings will be held Tuesday in New York and Los Angeles, said Patric Verrone, president of the guild's West Coast branch.

"This is the best deal this guild has bargained for in 30 years," Verrone said.

The tentative contract secures writers a share of the burgeoning digital-media market, he said, including compensation for Internet-delivered TV shows and movies.

"If they (producers) get paid, we get paid. This contract makes that a reality," Verrone said. But, he added, "it is not all we hoped for and it is not all we deserved."

Still, the union's negotiating committee recommended Saturday that the contract be accepted, and the West guild's board of directors and the East Coast guild's council agreed. They called for a membership ratification vote, which will be conducted by mail over about two weeks.

Member approval of the contract and the strike's end appeared likely. At heavily attended membership meetings Saturday in New York and Los Angeles, there was resounding support for the proposed deal that could put TV and movie production back on track, salvage the rest of the TV season and remove a boycott threat from this month's Oscars.

Verrone thanked television viewers who "tolerated three months of reruns and reality TV."

The guild's major bargaining concession to studios was agreeing to take unionization of animation and reality TV shows off the table, Verrone said. The guild has said it still intends to pursue those goals.

The Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers, which represents the studios, said it had no comment Sunday on the guild's actions.

The strike's end would allow many hit series to return this spring for what's left of the current season, airing anywhere from four to seven new episodes. Shows with marginal audience numbers may not return until fall, or could be canceled.

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A minimum of four weeks would be needed for producers to start from scratch with their first post-strike episodes of comedies and get them on the air, industry members said. A drama would require six to eight weeks from concept to broadcast.

"It will be all hands on deck for the writing staff," said Chris Mundy, co-executive producer of CBS' drama "Criminal Minds." He hopes to get a couple of scripts in the pipeline right away, and for about seven episodes to air by the end of May.

"It's a real balancing act," he said, "to get up and running as fast as possible, but not let the quality slip."

The strike, the first in 20 years for the writers guild, began Nov. 5 and included bitter exchanges between the guild and the producers alliance. Talks collapsed in December.

In January, the studios reached an agreement in separate negotiations with the Directors Guild of America. Top media company executives, including Peter Chernin of News Corp. and Robert Iger of The Walt Disney Co., asked the writers to resume bargaining.

What were termed informal talks between the executives and guild leaders led to the tentative contract that writers will be voting on.

Together, the East and West Coast guilds represent 12,000 writers, with about 10,000 of those involved in the strike. It has cost the Los Angeles area economy alone an estimated $1 billion or more.

Based on the guild's summary of the deal, it is similar to the agreement reached with directors.

It provides union jurisdiction over projects created for the Internet based on certain guidelines, sets compensation for streamed, ad-supported programs, and increases residual payments for downloaded movies and TV programs.

Writers would get a maximum flat fee of about $1,200 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 writers and directors guild deals both include a provision that compensation for ad-supported streaming wouldn't kick in until after a window of 17 to 24 days deemed "promotional" by the studios.

Some writers have balked at that, saying Internet traffic is heaviest in the first few days.

___

AP Movie Writer David Germain contributed to this report.

Copyright © 2008 The Seattle Times Company

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