Plot twist: Hollywood writers strike

Workers who write for most major TV shows and movies will form picket lines Monday morning in disagreement over compensation.

LOS ANGELES (CNN) -- The writers who make up the words for most of the movies and television shows produced in the United States will be walking picket lines Monday morning outside of major studios in New York and Los Angeles as the Writers Guild of America (WGA) has launched a strike against producers.

The writers union said a strike, which began at 12:01 a.m. Monday, was necessary to protect their future incomes as the shows they write are increasingly distributed over new media, primarily Internet downloading.


While studios have been hoarding scripts for months in anticipation of a strike, some television shows that are more topical - especially late night TV - are expected to immediately go to reruns.

A last-day effort to reach a new work agreement collapsed Sunday night despite a major concession by the writers as they dropped their demand for a doubling of how much they are paid for DVD sales. This had been considered the major stumbling block to a deal.

The president of the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers (AMPTP) criticized the WGA negotiators for walking out of the talks Sunday night.

"When we asked if they would 'stop the clock' for the purpose of delaying the strike to allow negotiations to continue, they refused," said AMPTP President Nick Counter.

The union's statement said while it chose to withdraw its DVD proposal - which would have doubled writers' residuals - the producers were still insisting on rules concerning Internet distribution that "makes a mockery of any residual."

The WGA said producers want to deny the union future jurisdiction over scripts written for most new media and there is no economic proposal for that part of new media writing the guild would cover.

Other rules demanded by producers would give writers no residuals when a movie is streamed online or during a "window" when online consumers have free reuse of downloads, the WGA said.

Counter placed the blame for the failed talks on the negotiators for the writers.

"We made an attempt at meeting them in a number of their key areas including Internet streaming and jurisdiction in New Media," Counter said. "Ultimately, the guild was unwilling to compromise on most of their major demands."

While working writers are generally paid well, they depend on residuals to get them through lean times of unemployment.

Writers face a changing industry as traditional television and movie theaters are increasingly supplanted by video iPods and Internet downloads. Their last contract was negotiated in 1988, years before DVD sales displaced VHS distribution.

Reality television has been another wake up call for writers, since most do not require scripts. "American Idol" and other hit shows should not be impacted by a prolonged strike.

AMPTP said that just 67 percent - 64 of 96 - television series this season are scripted, down from 81 percent just two seasons ago.

Late-night television hosts like David Letterman, Jay Leno and Jimmy Kimmel, as well as programs such as "The Daily Show" will likely feel the pinch of the strike first. Because of their topical nature, networks do not typically shoot these shows in advance.

Daytime soaps normally stockpile about 30 days in advance and most prime-time shows would likely make it through the end of the year without any major impact on programing.

But networks would have to resort to reruns, news programs and reality shows to fill the schedule in 2008 if a strike were to drag on.

If the strike lingers on, the WGA faces the danger of writers opting out of full membership for "financial core" status, which would allow them to return to work. They would lose their voting privileges, but retain all benefits.

The last WGA strike 20 years ago lasted five and a half months and cost the entertainment industry an estimated $500 million. Top of page