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Down to the wire

The Screen Actors Guild's contract renewal with major Hollywood studios and networks is expected to be a slam dunk, with a new three-year pact likely to be signed before the June 30 deadline.

But the Lakers were expected to sweep the NBA Finals, and Los Angeles learned last week that wasn't going to happen. Likewise, the SAG snag remains until a new contract is signed, sealed and delivered.

When the Writers Guild of America signed its new deal with the Alliance of Motion Picture & Television Producers in early May, Screen Actors Guild President William Daniels made it clear that he, too, expected to avoid a strike. In fact, SAG and the American Federation of Television & Radio Artists, which together are negotiating with the studios and networks, held a press conference last month to stress that fact.

And with the Writer's Guild negotiations over and positive vibes coming out of SAG and AFTRA headquarters, the broadcast networks and studios have gone back to an almost business-as-usual mentality.

But with only two and half weeks until the SAG-AFTRA deadline, it might be a little premature to discount the possibility of a strike in Hollywood.

"The more that we hear that this deal is going to be a slam dunk, the more that it causes the likelihood for it not to be just that," says one executive close to the negotiations. "Actually the parties started pretty far apart, not that that's not expected. Quite honestly they haven't spent a lot of time together since they started. It's not a done deal by any stretch."

The two sides have been meeting sporadically at the AMPTP's Encino, Calif., headquarters since mid-May and started again last week after a 12-day hiatus.

"It'll probably come down to the wire just as the WGA's did," says another executive close to the negotiations. "I think that's the quote-unquote reality. If [SAG] came away with a contract early, some members might think that the representatives are not fighting for everything they can. So it wouldn't surprise me if it goes down to the wire or a little beyond."

Both the studios and unions have vowed to keep the negotiations out of the press and are working under a media blackout. A SAG spokesman would only say, "We've always maintained that we want to come away from this without a work stoppage." A spokesman for the AMPTP declined comment.

Meanwhile, last week, a month after heading off a potential strike of their own, the WGA's members voted overwhelmingly to approve a new three-year contract with the AMPTP. Of the 4,000 votes cast, 92% of WGA members favored the new deal.