LOS ANGELES, United States (AFP) — Hollywood writers were heading for a potentially crippling strike on Wednesday after 11th-hour contract negotiations with film and television producers broke down, officials said.
The Writers Guild of America (WGA) and the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers had been locked in talks throughout the day in an effort to hammer out an agreement before an existing contract runs out.
Writers are demanding a greater share of residual profits from television series sold on DVDs as well as improved pay schedules for programs shown on the Internet, cellular phones, and other new media outlets.
The producers have rejected the demands as unworkable, raising the very real prospect of a writers' walkout at some point after their current contract expires at midnight local time (0700 GMT Thursday).
Industry analysts say any strike could severely disrupt television schedules and programming, while Los Angeles' mayor has estimated that a lengthy shutdown could lead to losses of 1 billion dollars.
Alliance president Nick Counter said the producers were keen to settle the dispute -- but insisted they would not budge on the on their rejection of the WGA demand for greater DVD profits.
"We want to make a deal," Counter said in a statement. "We think doing so is in your best interests, in your members' best interests, in the best interests of our companies and in the best interests of the industry.
"But, as I said, no further movement is possible to close the gap between us so long as your DVD proposal remains on the table."
The WGA described the producers' stance as "completely unacceptable."
"After three and a half months of bargaining, the AMPTP still has not responded to a single one of our important proposals," a WGA statement said.
"Every issue that matters to writers, including Internet reuse, original writing for new media, DVDs, and jurisdiction, has been ignored. This is completely unacceptable."
A spokesman for the guild said no resumption of negotiations was planned for Thursday, when the writers' body will hold a meeting of its membership where the issue of industrial action is expected to be discussed.
"We will be assessing our options and reaching out to our members. We don't expect a decision (on a strike) until then," the WGA spokeswoman told AFP.
The WGA has already authorized its leadership to call a walkout if no new contract is agreed.
If the strike goes ahead it is expected to disrupt television programming, with late-night chat shows hosted by David Letterman and Jay Leno, which both lean heavily on teams of union writers, expected to go off the air.
Other nightly shows such as Jon Stewart's "Daily Show" and Stephen Colbert's "The Colbert Report" are also tipped to shutdown, according to Daily Variety.
The immediate impact on major Hollywood studios is expected to be limited as several have already drawn up contingency plans, according to industry reports.
Variety reported on Wednesday that most of the major studios had built a portfolio of five films with scripts and plots strong enough to overcome the possible lack of a union writer on board to execute re-writes.
A WGA strike in 1988 lasted 22 weeks and cost the industry an estimated 500 million dollars. Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa has warned that a similar strike today could cost the industry almost double.
"If it (cost the industry) 500 million dollars in 1988, a slowdown of that length would have over a one billion dollar impact today," Villaraigosa told the Los Angeles Times. "I'm very concerned."
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