Labor peace returned to Hollywood on Monday, but the town's production machine remained at a low idle ahead of a vote by striking film and TV writers on whether to return to work after a three-month clash with major studios.
A proposed contract settlement was endorsed on Sunday by the governing bodies of the Writers Guild of America, which also pulled the plug on further picketing scheduled this week.
But the walkout remained in effect pending a vote set for Tuesday by union rank and file on whether to lift the strike.
Membership meetings are slated for New York and Los Angeles where writers can cast their ballots in person or by proxy, and they are expected to support an immediate back-to-work order.
Formal approval of the contract, which hinged on new payments to writers for work distributed over the Internet, is being conducted through a lengthier ratification process that normally takes up to two weeks.
For the time being, writers were still barred from working on projects that were in development for struck companies before 10,500 WGA members walked off the job on November 5.
Even when the walkout officially ends, the potential for further labor strife hangs over Hollywood. The Screen Actors Guild, which represents some 120,000 film and TV performers, sees its contract with the studios come up for renewal in June, and SAG leaders have vowed to be aggressive in labor talks.
One key group of Hollywood workers who did return to their jobs on Monday were television show-runners on dozens of scripted prime-time dramas and comedies forced out of production by the strike.
They are permitted to perform producing duties but remain precluded for now from writing or polishing scripts.
On the film side, only production companies that signed interim agreements with the WGA during the strike, such as Lionsgate Entertainment, the Weinstein Co. and Tom Cruise's United Artists, were allowed to have writers at work.
But that has not kept countless freelance scribes from plugging away at their computer keyboards. Even before the tentative pact, film writers were presumably toiling over spec scripts -- unsolicited screenplays to shop around, or pitch, to studios once the strike is officially over.
The anticipated glut of post-strike spec scripts will likely spark a feeding frenzy by studios eager to outmaneuver rivals in snatching up fresh offerings from A-list writers, said Carl DiOrio, who covered the strike for one of the town's leading trade magazines, The Hollywood Reporter.
The writing that was verboten during the strike involved only those projects that were pitched prior to the strike, he said. Despite the Writers Guild motto of 'pencils down,' many of them have been working on spec scripts of all sorts.
The TV show-runners, because of their dual role as writers and producers, were never completely prohibited from working on series. But they chose to stay away in support of the WGA, playing a key role in shutting down much of the TV industry.
They were expected to return to work today, DiOrio said. But they won't be doing any writing functions until the strike is lifted.
Networks are eager to get new episodes of powerhouse shows -- like Grey's Anatomy, CSI, The Office and House -- back on air as soon as possible. But programs that struggled in the ratings may either be canceled or benched for next season.
The usual spring rush to produce pilot episodes of new series also will be scaled back, industry watchers said.
One program especially eager to get its writers back is the Oscar telecast slated for February 24.
A spokeswoman for the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences said writers for the show and its host, Jon Stewart, normally would have started working many weeks earlier.
They'll have significantly less time than they would have otherwise, and it will be a challenge, she said. But there will be writers ... and we'll have a show.
(Editing by Bob Tourtellotte and Mohammad Zargham)