Studio Negotiators Meeting Saturday in Advance of Resuming WGA Talks Sunday

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Protestors during the 2007-08 WGA strike

Two more days of talks may be all that separates the entertainment industry from a strike.

The AMPTP studio alliance and studio personnel themselves are meeting Saturday to formulate an offer to the Writers Guild of America ahead of talks scheduled for Sunday and Monday. Those talks, including the rare weekend session, come as negotiators seek to avert a writers strike threatened for as early as Monday night (Tuesday 12:01 a.m.), when the existing contract expires. Knowledgeable observers are split on the likelihood of a walkout.

On the one hand, the parties seem far apart, with a roughly quarter-billion dollar gap separating the guild’s demands, which the union has estimated at $468 million over three years, from the studio proposals, which are probably a bit north of $180 million.

That $468 million represents only a $67 million, or 13 percent, movement from the union’s position about 20 days ago. And with a resounding 96.3 percent strike authorization achieved Monday amid heavy turnout, the guild may not be in a mood to compromise much further. “The cost of settling is reasonable,” said the union in a post on Friday, pointing to its evaluation of major media company profits.

Yet it also seems unlikely that the studios are going to suddenly toss in another $200 million or so to close the deal. If nothing else, that would earn recriminations from the DGA, which reached an agreement several months ago on terms more modest than what the WGA seeks. And, it would play havoc with studio strategy for negotiating with the actors’ union, SAG-AFTRA, with which talks start in mid-May.

That sounds like a strike is a foregone conclusion. But pretty much no one really wants a walkout — not even the writers themselves — and, if nothing else, the election of President Donald Trump and Brexit have underlined just how volatile public opinion can be in an age of fast facts and faster feeds. Often, messages matter as much as policy, and soundbites more than specifics.

In the end, a negotiation is not a shopping spree — no one gets everything they want — and at some point, whether Monday night, or a bit later in the (perhaps unlikely) event of an extension, or after a strike — the WGA leadership will have to pivot and explain to the membership that it is recommending a yes vote on what it’s likely to describe as an improved and best achievable deal, albeit an imperfect one.

At that point, the guild’s membership will vote the contract up, maybe as resoundingly as they voted to authorize a strike. But when that deal will come, and whether a walkout will come first, is as yet unknown.

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