WGA, studio heads may find common ground



Strange but true: The WGA and studio reps have notched back-to-back negotiating sessions marked by productive exchanges on issues key to sealing a new contract and ending the month-plus writers strike.

Both parties issued brief statements after a nine-hour session concluded at about 7 p.m. Wednesday. The Alliance of Motion Picture & Television Producers stressed a belief that the parties eventually can come to a meeting of the minds in their talks.

"We remain committed to making a fair and reasonable deal," the studio group said. "We believe there is common ground to be found between the two sides that will put all of us in the entertainment industry in a better position to survive and prosper in what is a rapidly changing modern, global marketplace."

The WGA also appeared cautiously upbeat. "For the last two days, we have had substantive discussions of the issues important to writers, the first time this has occurred in this negotiation," the guild said.

Negotiators agreed to resume negotiations at 10 a.m. today in the same undisclosed location. The AMPTP claimed it was the guild that requested breaking off talks for the night and reconvening in the morning.

The latest bargaining session picked up where things left off Tuesday -- hashing over details of a guild counter-proposal regarding Internet-streaming compensation. But the WGA said other issues covered Wednesday included guild jurisdiction for original content for the Internet, reality TV, animation and basic cable, as well as the matter of contract enforcement.

The streaming-compensation discussion has swung on two proposals, with the WGA claiming at day's end Wednesday that management had yet to respond to its most recent proposal.

Last week, the AMPTP offered to pay writers $250 a year when TV content is streamed for free over ad-supported Internet sites. The writers immediately dismissed the management proposal as insufficient but then quickly went to work hashing out a counter-proposal.

In its Tuesday response, the guild similarly proposed a minimum payment of only several hundred dollars but also demanded the payment increase incrementally for each 100,000 additional viewings of the content. After the first year such content is streamed, any additional streaming would trigger a residual calculated at 2.5% of the distributor gross from advertising receipts.

The WGA proposal also penciled in a 2.5% residual for any movie that's streamed -- something unaddressed in the AMPTP's streaming offer.

The recent negotiating give-and-take follows previous rounds of talks marked by vituperative exchanges before, during and after individual sessions.

On the picketing front, a recent temperature drop on the East Coast had picketers in Manhattan braving winter-like conditions for the first time.

"The picket line returned to Rockefeller Plaza, the site of our first N.Y. picket on Nov. 5," WGA spokeswoman Sherry Goldman said. "But today the Rockefeller Center Christmas tree was on hand and glowing brightly and the weather a lot chillier than a month ago."

About 250 picketers showed up despite the cold, she estimated. "The striking writers would not be deterred," Goldman said.

Separately on Wednesday, the AMPTP said it has retained PR consultants Mark Fabiani and Chris Lehane of Fabiani & Lehane and Steve Schmidt of Mercury Public Affairs. The studio group said the trio will help communicate its negotiating proposals, which the AMPTP has dubbed the New Economic Partnership.

Fabiani and Lehane have worked for top Democratic political figures including President Clinton, and Schmidt has been an adviser to Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger.