LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Some 12,000 screenwriters went on strike against the U.S. film and television industry on Monday after the collapse of last-ditch contract negotiations aimed at preserving nearly 20 years of Hollywood labour peace.
Ten hours of bargaining presided over by a federal mediator failed to close a deal before a strike deadline set last Friday by the Writers Guild of America, which has sought a greater share of DVD and Internet revenues for its members.
The initial impact of a strike for most of the public will be felt on television.
Popular late-night talk shows such as NBC’s “The Tonight Show With Jay Leno” and CBS’ “Late Show With David Letterman,” which are produced on a day-to-day basis and depend on a steady supply of topical jokes and sketches, were expected to go into immediate reruns.
Prime-time comedies such as the CBS hit “Two and a Half Men” and Kelsey Grammer’s new Fox sitcom “Back to You” also are expected to be knocked out of production because they depend on a substantial amount of last-minute script rewrites.
The effect on movies will be less obvious since the major studios’ screenplay pipeline is well-stocked through 2008.
Even as talks in Los Angeles had dragged on late on Sunday, the union’s East Coast branch declared it was going ahead with the walkout at 12:01 a.m. EST (6:01 a.m. British time), and the larger West Coast contingent joined the work stoppage three hours later.
The first picket lines went up outside General Electric’s NBC television headquarters at Rockefeller Plaza in New York City.
“I’m a member of the guild and I am here to support my fellow guild members,” said actress and “Saturday Night Live” veteran Tina Fey, who currently stars on, writes and produces the NBC sitcom “30 Rock,” a parody of the TV industry.
“This strike affects the show in which I work. We put our pens down yesterday, and we will not write until negotiations resume,” she said.
Picketing outside NBC Studios in Burbank, California, “Tonight Show” head writer Joe Meceiros said, “There will be no ‘Tonight Show’ tonight.”
“I’m disappointed the corporations didn’t come to the table any more seriously than they did,” he said. “None of us wanted a strike. We were driven to this. I’m fighting for the future of every writer.”
WGA picket lines were planned at more than a dozen sites around Los Angeles, including Walt Disney’s studios, Time Warner Inc’s TWX.N Warner Bros Studios, Viacom Inc’s Paramount Pictures Studio, CBS Corp’s CBS Television City, and News Corp’s Fox Studios.
A spokesman for the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers (AMPTP), the bargaining arm of the studios, said no new talks were scheduled.
The last major Hollywood strike, a Writers Guild walkout in 1988, ran for 22 weeks, delayed the start of the fall TV season and cost the industry an estimated $500 million.
Los Angeles economist Jack Kyser said a similar strike now could result in at least $1 billion (48 billion pounds) in economic losses.
The union says the overall compensation package it sought would cost $220 million over three years, a fraction of the $24.4 billion in revenues generated by U.S. DVD sales and rentals last year alone, according to accounting firm PricewaterhouseCoopers.
Negotiations, which began in July, deadlocked over writers’ demands for an increase in “residual” fees they earn when their film and TV work gets reused in DVDs and Internet downloads. They also sought new fees on original material written for the Internet, cell phones and other digital formats.
The union said it ultimately withdrew its demand for higher DVD residuals, an issue that studios last week described as a “complete roadblock to any further progress.” But the WGA said producers refused to budge on Internet compensation.
AMPTP president Nick Counter said the studios sought to forestall a strike while both sides were still bargaining.
“When we asked if they would ‘stop the clock’ for the purpose of delaying the strike to allow negotiations to continue, they refused,” he said.
Additional reporting by Vivianne Rodrigues in New York and Dean Goodman in Los Angeles; Editing by David Storey