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Today, the guilds representing television and movie writers resume negotiations with studio representatives in Hollywood. They'd been in and out of contentious negotiations for months now.
And NPR's Kim Masters reports that a strike is looking more and more likely.
KIM MASTERS: The entertainment business is being transformed by new technologies, and a big issue for the writers is how much they'll get when their work is streamed or downloaded or whatever else. They're convinced they never got a fair share of money from DVDs, and they're demanding a bigger slice of earnings from new media.
But the studios contend that nobody knows what kind of revenue these new technologies will generate. They said a study of future business prospects would provide a better basis for negotiation.
But Nick Counter, president of the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers, says the writers said no.
Mr. NICK COUNTER (President, Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers): They said, no, we're not interested in doing something intelligent. We'll just throw a dart, you know, in the dark and let the chips fall where they may.
Mr. PATRICK VERRONE (President, Writers Guild of America, West, Inc.): Our basic mantra is if they get paid, we get paid.
MASTERS: Patrick Verrone is president of the Writers Guild West. He says it's clear that writers are entitled to a piece of whatever profit the studios can wring from new technologies, even if it doesn't turn out to be that much.
Mr. VERRONE: Our proposals are all revenue based. And again, if they get paid, we get paid. If they don't get paid, then we don't.
MASTERS: The studios have been preparing for a strike for some time now. Networks have ordered extra episodes of some shows, and they have nine union reality shows waiting in the wings. So if a strike happens, viewers will probably be treated to an even greater supply of dancing, singing and weight-losing contests.
But Patrick Verrone of the Writers Guild says that won't make the networks immune to the effects of a strike.
Mr. VERRONE: The CEO's, who run the major networks, realize as well as anyone that their ability to compete with one another is not a formula that includes all reality all the time.
MASTERS: While Verrone is confident that a writers' strike would hurt the studios, some writers are worried about what it might do to them. The last strike was in 1988 and lasted for five months.
Guild member Janis Hirsch, a veteran of sitcoms including "Murphy Brown" and "Will & Grace" remembers attending a union meeting then.
Ms. JANIS HIRSCH (Member, Writers Guild of America): I saw grown men weeping in - you know, you just get in line to speak in the microphone - and they were weeping because they'd lost their homes. They'd lost everything.
MASTERS: Hirsch says she would like to be paid when her work is used in new formats. But to her, it's not worth another debilitating strike.
Ms. HIRSCH: I can't complain. Would I like more? Sure, who wouldn't? Who wouldn't like more money? But I'm being, I think, fairly compensated.
MASTERS: But this week, the Guild asked its members for authorization to call a strike, and Verrone is confident that it will be approved. That means a walkout could come anytime after the current contract expires at the end of the month. That's sooner than expected. The Directors and Screen Actors Guilds both have agreements that expire at the end of June, and the writers were planning to work under their old contract until then, so they could lock arms in negotiations. But they've concluded it might be better to give the studios less time to stockpile scripts.
Kim Masters, NPR News.
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