Hollywood Writers May Strike over New Media

The rhetoric between executives of unions representing television and movie writers and those at studios has grown intensely heated amid fears that writers may wage a strike when their contract expires in couple of weeks.

The writers, represented by the Writers Guild of America, want a bigger share of the profits from DVDs as well as other new-media productions of their work for cell phones and other handheld devices.

The entertainment business is being dramatically changed by new technologies, and that, screenwriters say, entitles them to a bigger share of the profits once their work is streamed, downloaded, or issued in any other format.

But members of the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers — the studios — contend that nobody knows what kind of revenue these new technologies will generate.

The studios offered to conduct a study analyzing the impact of the new media, but the writers rejected that idea. The writers maintain that they should get a piece of anything the studios make from new media.

"Our basic mantra is if they get paid, we get paid," Patric Verrone, president of the Writers Guild West, said in a recent interview.

But that stance prompted producers to suggest a rollback in the long-standing residuals system whereby writers get paid for repeat airings of their work, angering writers.

Consequently, the writers seem poised to strike sooner rather than later. They were planning to hold off on a strike when their contract expires at the end of the month until June. That's when the Screen Actors Guild and the Directors Guild of America are due to negotiate new contracts; and if they were to strike, then the Writers Guild would join in sympathy.

That plan may be undercut, however, by the Directors Guild cutting its own deal early — something that's happened before — and by giving studios the opportunity to stock up on material in anticipation of a strike.

(Networks have ordered extra episodes of some shows and they have non-union reality shows waiting in the wings. So if a strike happens, viewers could see more dancing, singing and weight-losing contests.)

So members of the Writers Guild may walk away as early as the beginning of November which would leave some studios with projects in mid-progress, forcing the studio to put it on hold or cancel it.

Since movies take more time to produce, the effects of a strike probably won't be visible on the big screen for more than a year.

But on television, viewers will see repeats of shows such as the late-night comedy genre right away.

The networks have been hustling to put together episodes of existing scripted shows, but with their audiences already fragmenting, weak programming will hurt.

Thus, sensing opportunity, Warner Brothers is offering a chance to buy reruns of its cable series The Closer, which has never been aired on a broadcast network.

Meanwhile, NBC is considering running the original British version of The Office.

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