Shared from the 2017-05-02 Chattanooga eEdition

Screenwriters, studios negotiate in hours before deadline

LOS ANGELES — Screenwriters and entertainment companies held contract talks in the final hours before a strike deadline on Monday, as union loyalists flooded Twitter with messages of resolve and as the rest of Hollywood held its collective breath.

As of midafternoon, negotiators for the Writers Guild of America, West, and the Writers Guild of America, East, were still meeting with their studio counterparts. Studios had made a new offer on Sunday — one reflecting improvements in some areas (health care) and scant movement in others (raises for Netflix and Amazon Prime shows) — and the unions came back Monday with a counteroffer, according to three people briefed on the talks, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss private meetings. Those people said the unions’ latest proposals varied little from previous ones.

The writers’ contract expired at midnight Pacific Daylight Time on Monday.

The unions and the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers, which bargains on behalf of studios, declined to comment on the state of negotiations while adhering to a news media blackout. But union members, including one involved with talks, posted messages on Twitter using the hashtag #wgaunity. Some fans and members of other Hollywood unions joined them.

“Our demands remain reasonable, affordable and fair,” wrote Billy Ray, a member of his union’s negotiating committee whose credits include the Tom Hanks movie “Captain Phillips” and the coming Amazon series “The Last Tycoon.” Eileen Conn, whose credits include the Disney Channel series “K.C. Undercover” and the 1990s sitcom “Just Shoot Me,” posted a photo of Sally Field as the title character from the film “Norma Rae” and wrote: “We are strong! We are united!”

Writers last month voted overwhelmingly to authorize a strike; 6,310 ballots were cast, representing 68 percent of eligible voters, with 96 percent in favor of a walkout if no palatable deal was offered by studios. Some guild members were expected to gather Monday night to make more placards to carry outside eight Los Angeles-area studios as soon as this morning.

A strike would pit union writers, whose position has been eroded by reality television, the rise of lower-paying streaming networks and reduced output by major movie studios, against entertainment conglomerates such as Comcast, the Walt Disney Co. and Time Warner. Television talk shows that rely on writers for monologues and skits — “The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon,” “The Ellen DeGeneres Show,” “Saturday Night Live” — would be affected first, followed by soap operas and some scripted summer series.

In the last big Hollywood strike, a decade ago, an enraged Writers Guild walked out over pay for digitally distributed shows. Tens of thousands of entertainment workers were idled, and the action cost the Los Angeles economy more than $2 billion, according to the Milken Institute.

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