Negotiators representing Hollywood's screenwriters have recommended the union go on strike for the first time in two decades, a move that could fill U.S. television screens with reruns and reality shows.
The unanimous recommendation was announced during a closed meeting of Writers Guild of America members late on Thursday, the day the union's labor contract with the studios expired after three months of talks that deadlocked over royalties for new technology.
The executive boards of the union's East and West Coast branches will meet Friday to consider the recommendation of the negotiating committee and to decide the next steps, the WGA said in a statement issued early on Friday.
Reports suggested that writers, who are demanding a bigger cut of DVD and Internet revenues, could be instructed later in the day to down pens and form picket lines as early as Monday.
There's an impasse and there's no progress, comedy writer David Garrett said after Thursday's meeting, which the WGA said was attended by 3,000 members. It's about all we can do.
The Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers, the bargaining arm of the studios, said in a statement that the union's strike recommendation was not a surprise.
We are ready to meet and are prepared to close this contract this weekend, said the group's president, Nick Counter.
A lengthy strike will impact television programming and movie production, although Hollywood studios have been stockpiling scripts in the event of a stoppage.
LETTERMAN VS. COWARDS
The late-night talks shows will go off the air almost immediately since they rely on a daily supply of topical jokes. On his CBS show on Thursday, David Letterman described the producers as cowards, cutthroats and weasels.
The prime-time schedules will start filling up with more reruns and game shows after the networks have burned through fresh episodes. The new shows fighting to hold viewers' attention in the first few weeks of the new season face a grim future if they have to leave the schedule for an extended period.
The WGA's three-year contract, covering 12,000 movie and TV writers, expired early on Thursday. Union leaders won approval two weeks ago from members to call a strike if deemed necessary once the contract expired.
The two sides brought in a federal mediator this week to try to break the deadlock on the key issue of remuneration in the digital age.
The studios have said union demands for higher residuals on DVDs and Internet downloads would stifle growth at a time of rising production costs, tighter profit margins and piracy threats. They insist that digital distribution of movies and TV remains largely experimental or promotional and new-media business models are just developing.
The union accuses the studios of pleading poverty and argues that writers have never gotten a fair deal on the lucrative DVD industry. They also see more of film and TV migrating toward the Internet and wireless platforms and want a bigger piece of that revenue pie.
The last major film and television strike was a WGA walkout in 1988 that lasted 22 weeks, delayed the start of the fall TV season and cost the industry an estimated $500 million. The motion picture and TV industry generates $30 billion in annual economic activity for Los Angeles County alone.
(Additional writing by Steve Gorman)