Discussion but little disclosure

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WGA negotiators and studio reps met for another day of tense contract talks Thursday, but mum was the word on whether progress was marked.

The stony silence can only serve to stir anxieties of industryites eager to read signs of hope into recent horse trading at the bargaining table.

The Alliance of Motion Picture & Television Producers put out a brief statement just after 6 p.m., saying that the latest session had concluded and that talks would reconvene at 10 this morning. The guild caucused until 8 p.m., only to emerge and say there would be no public statement.

The rounds of talks held since Nov. 29 have contrasted sharply with most previous sessions in featuring a swap of detailed proposals on various issues. That has included a particularly elaborate give-and-take on the subject of writers' compensation for TV content streamed over the Internet.

The introduction of actual haggling into the talks swelled optimism for the first time in weeks. Yet at the end of the fifth week of the writers strike, a new realization may be kicking in: The parties must actually agree on compromise solutions to the many difficult issues.

There's been newly civil discourse thanks to CAA partner Bryan Lourd's ad hoc mediation. But identifying specific formulas for compromise still could prove easier said than done.

Robert King, a WGA West director and negotiating committee member, posted his feelings about the current state of negotiations on the ArtfulWriter screenwriting blog Thursday.

"My personal observation is that negotiations have moved toward a better place," King wrote. "This might be just a brief respite before Negotiations Armageddon, but for the moment there is dialogue, and dialogue is essential for these difficult new-media issues.

"Part of the problem of negotiations — and especially this negotiation — is that both sides tend to interpret the contractual proposals and counterproposals in one way: as an attempt to fuck them," he added. "This is complicated by the fact that sometimes management's proposals are designed to do exactly that, and sometimes they aren't designed to do that but might be used later by less enlightened souls to do that."

Twenty-four bargaining sessions have been held since the WGA-AMPTP negotiations began July 16. The strike marks its 33rd day today, with picketing scheduled to continue on both coasts.

In addition to its usual picketing throughout Los Angeles, the WGA will mount a special "informational picket" at the Burbank offices of FremantleMedia, whose reality productions the guild has been trying to organize. In New York, where picketing has targeted select media headquarters on a rotating basis, picketers suddenly are faced with the additional challenge of wintry weather conditions.

"This was the coldest day so far in New York," WGA East spokeswoman Sherry Goldman said. "Temperatures got close to freezing, and the wind chills were in the high teens."

Some 200 WGAE striking writers were joined by members of SAG, AFTRA and DGA on Thursday for picketing at HBO's Manhattan offices.

"The crowded swelled so much that New York City police were forced to extend the barricades into one lane of the very trafficked Avenue of the Americas to accommodate the picketers," Goldman noted.

Chant of the day: "Hey, hey, ho, ho — HBO, show us the dough."

Also on Thursday, the WGA said that nominations for TV and radio categories of the 2008 WGA Awards would be announced Dec. 13 and film noms will be unveiled Jan. 10.

There had been some speculation that the WGA Awards could become a strike casualty. But the guild said awards galas remain slated for Feb. 9, when simultaneous ceremonies will be held by the WGAW and WGAE in Los Angeles and New York, respectively.
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