LOS ANGELES - Hollywood writers and studio representatives began last-ditch negotiations yesterday in an effort to prevent a strike, the writers union said.
A federal mediator called the meeting between the Writers Guild of America and the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television producers at an undisclosed location.
The writers' contract expired Oct. 31, and they planned to strike at 12:01 this morning if a deal could not be reached. The first picket lines would be seen at New York's Rockefeller Center, followed by picket lines at various locations in Los Angeles, the guild said.
The writers want more money from the sale of DVDs and a share of revenue generated by the sale of TV shows and films over the Internet. The studios say the demands are unreasonable and would hamper attempts to experiment with new media.
The last time writers went on strike was in 1988. The walkout lasted 22 weeks and cost the industry about $500 million.
WGA board members voted unanimously Friday to begin the strike unless studios offered a more lucrative deal. The two sides have been meeting since July.
"The studios made it clear that they would rather shut down this town than reach a fair and reasonable deal," Patric Verrone, president of the western chapter of the guild, said at a news conference.
J. Nicholas Counter, chief negotiator for producers, called the writers' strike "precipitous and irresponsible" in a prepared statement.
Producers believe progress can be made on other issues but "it makes absolutely no sense to increase the burden of this additional compensation" involving DVDs and the Internet, Counter said.
The first casualty of the strike would be late-night talk shows, which are dependent on current events to fuel monologues and other entertainment.
"The Tonight Show" on NBC will go into reruns starting today if last-ditch negotiations fail and a strike begins, according to a network official who spoke on condition of anonymity because the person was not authorized to comment publicly.
Comedy Central has said "The Daily Show with Jon Stewart" and "The Colbert Report" would likely go into repeats as well.
Daytime TV, including live talk shows such as "The View" and soap operas, which typically tape about a week's worth of shows in advance, would be next to feel the impact.
The strike would not immediately affect production of movies or prime-time TV programs. Most studios have stockpiled dozens of movie scripts, and TV shows have enough scripts or completed shows in hand to last until early next year.
Talks between writers and producers will likely impact upcoming negotiations between the studios and unions representing actors and directors.
All those unions believe revenue from content offered on the Internet, cellphones, and other platforms will grow tremendously in the years ahead, even though it's now minuscule compared with DVD sales.
Consumers are expected to spend $16.4 billion on DVDs this year, according to Adams Media Research. By contrast, studios could generate about $158 million from selling movies online and about $194 million from selling TV shows over the Web.
Studios argue that it is too early to know how much money they can make from offering entertainment on the Internet and on cellphones, iPods, and other devices.
Producers are also uncertain whether consumers prefer a pay-per-view model over an advertising-supported system. They say they want the economic flexibility to experiment as consumer habits change in reaction to technology.