A picket line is penciled in

WGA eyes strike on Monday

WGA negotiators Thursday night unanimously decided to bring a strike recommendation to their elected leadership today.

The announcement drew cheers from the roughly 3,000 members of the WGA West assembled at the Los Angeles Convention Center. The strike likely will begin Monday, but a final decision on the timing will be determined today, when the WGA West and WGA East boards and councils meet at 10 a.m. PDT in L.A. and New York.

In a surprise development, Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa has offered his services to help bring about an agreement between the writers and the Hollywood TV and film studios.

"The mayor's involvement gives us hope because the mayor's not going to get involved if he thinks it's hopeless," said Jeff Hermanson, WGAW assistant exec director.

Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers president Nick Counter released a statement saying that the studios were not surprised by the guild's action. "We are ready to meet and are prepared to close this contract this weekend," he said.

"We are receptive to meetings as long as they are not conditioned on non-negotiable demands from the companies," Hermanson said.

The turnout at the cavernous convention center was large. A throng of writers descended on the downtown venue backslapping one another and greeting friends. Conversation with individual writers, however, revealed an underlying anger over what they viewed as long-standing mistreatment at the hands of their studio employers.

"A lot of us are feeling very frustrated," said Marc Cherry, showrunner on ABC's "Desperate Housewives" and a member of the WGA negotiating committee. "We very much would like to make a deal, but we feel the other side is not letting us do that."

Several others among the crowd expressed other frustrations.

"We don't mind waiting six months between paychecks," one screenwriter heading into the meeting said when asked his feelings about a work stoppage.

"The studios take so long paying us anyway that we're used to it. They are just very disrespectful that way, and there is a residual resentment."

Pun intended.

Among those addressing the troops was SAG president Alan Rosenberg. "I was asked to come, (and) we have a strong alliance with the writers guild," he said. "So I was here to show support."

Anxious industryites have been awaiting word on whether a strike would be called ever since the WGA's last bargaining session with the Alliance of Motion Picture & Television Producers ended on Wednesday with both parties expressing bitter frustration over a major impasse in their talks.

DVD is once again keeping the parties from finding negotiating traction, but the guild's call for expanded compensation from new-media content is another major sticking point.

Three years ago, the WGA tried unsuccessfully to sweeten its DVD deal, and the studios are again drawing a line in the sand of the issue. It's less clear whether there is any greater flexibility in the studios' resistance to expanded new-media compensation.

In their previous talks in 2001, the WGA ultimately was forced to take improved health and pension plans instead of higher DVD residuals. That happened after the DGA signed a contract of similar terms, effectively eliminating the writers' bargaining clout.