WGA Strike Nears Finale

After a bitter three-month-long strike that wreaked havoc in the TV and film industries, it looks likely that members of the Writers Guild of America will be returning to work Wednesday.

Rank and file writers are set to vote Tuesday on whether to end their strike, which began Nov. 5, pending a membership vote on ratifying a tentative three-year agreement with Hollywood studios. If the members agree to end the strike, they would be back at work Wednesday.  

The actual ratification vote, by membership of both the WGA East and West, would then take place in the next 10 days.

The leadership of both the WGA’s branches, the WGA East Council and the WGA West Board, voted Sunday to recommend ratification of the proposed contract with the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers.  

The WGA’s new deal  --  similar in many respects to an agreement that the Directors Guild of America struck a few weeks ago -- secures for the writers a number of their demands regarding new-media residuals. For example, the guild got jurisdiction for content created for the Web, residuals for shows streamed online and an increase in compensation for content that it downloaded.

“It is an agreement that protects a future in which the Internet becomes the primary means of both content creation and delivery,” WGA East president Michael Winship and WGA West president Patric Verrone wrote in an e-mail Saturday to members.

WGA members were informed of the terms of the tentative pact, announced early Saturday morning, at meetings later that day in New York City and Los Angeles. The deal was well-received at both member meetings.

A return to work this week would mean that one of the entertainment industry’s key events, the Academy Awards, will be able to go on as planned Feb. 24. The strike had been threatening to cripple the Oscars, the way it reduced the normally festive and star-studded Golden Globes Awards gala to a mere press conference.

With TV and movie writers back at work, production would also be free to resume on shows and films, whose production was derailed by the strike, which had entered its fourth month. The strike not only put a kibosh on show’s like Fox’s 24 this season, it also suspended production of hits like ABC’s Lost and Grey’s Anatomy, which were left with only some of the installments that had been planned for this season. Now broadcasters will have to decide which series they will resume production on, and when those episodes will air.

The deal also means that writers for late-night shows such as Comedy Central’s The Late Show With Jon Stewart andThe Colbert Report and NBC’s The Tonight Show With Jay Leno will be able to return to work. TheLate Show with David Letterman had been able to strike an interim deal with the WGA, which meant that show’s scribes were able to write for the show.

In their Saturday e-mail to union members, Winship and Verrone had urged their membership to agree to the contract.      

“Over these three difficult months, we shut down production of nearly all scripted content in TV and film and had a serious impact on the business of our employers in ways they did not expect and were hard pressed to deflect,” Winship and Verrone said. “Nevertheless, an ongoing struggle against seven, multinational media conglomerates, no matter how successful, is exhausting, taking an enormous personal toll on our members and countless others,” they warned in their e-mail. “As such, we believe that continuing to strike now will not bring sufficient gains to outweigh the potential risks and that the time has come to accept this contract and settle the strike.”

In closing, Winship and Verrone said, “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.”

In the tentative deal, the WGA won a number of its demands. The union’s jurisdiction was expanded to include content created for new media, and there are increased residuals for movie and TV show downloads. 

The deal does give studios a “promotional” window, varying from 17 to 24 days, to stream TV shows online without shelling out any fees to writers.

After that, for the first two years of the pact on a one-hour show a writer would get a fixed fee of roughly $1,300 a year for a program that’s streamed online. In the third year, the residual would be 2% of the distributor’s revenue. That’s a deal point that the directors’ didn’t get in their contract.

Under the contract, writers will also get additional compensation for online content that moves to TV.

The union boasted that initially, the AMPTP had sought a number of contract rollbacks, including profit-based residuals and deferring all Internet compensation in favor of a study.

But one of the breakthroughs that got talks back on track last month, after they broke off in December, was the WGA’s decision to drop its demand for jurisdiction on animation and reality programming.