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Interim Pact Reached in Writers Strike : Could End Walkout Against Film and TV Industry by Tuesday

March 09, 1985|JAY SHARBUTT and JOHN HORN | Times Staff Writers

After more than 16 hours of bargaining that did not end until daybreak Friday, the striking Writers Guild of America and representatives of the film and television industry reached a tentative agreement that could end the guild's walkout by next Tuesday.

Guild leaders, a spokesman said, will "strongly recommend" that their members approve the proposed three-year agreement at meetings scheduled for Monday night in both Los Angeles and New York. The writers have been on strike since Tuesday.

Both the guild and the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers said they did not want to disclose details of the new contract until guild negotiators can present it to the membership at Monday night's meetings.

Each side "dealt with everything that was of concern to both parties," said Chuck Weisenberg, a spokesman for the alliance, which represents the three major television networks, major studios and film and TV producers. He declined to elaborate.

Neither Weisenberg nor the guild would comment on whether the tentative settlement included one of the major issues in the strike--the writers' share of profits from the billion-dollar market for recorded videotape cassettes of films and television programs.

But sources close to the talks said the guild agreed to drop arbitration of videocassette revenue-sharing when the alliance agreed to put $1 million in the guild's supplemental health plan for free-lance television writers.

Obviously responding to those reports, the guild said in a statement Friday afternoon that the "arbitration has been dropped, and in exchange the guild has gotten a package that is very beneficial to the membership." It refused, however, to go beyond that statement.

Creative Rights for Writers

The alliance, the sources said, also agreed to put $75,000 a year for three years into whatever fund the writers' group designates and to make improvements in creative rights for writers. The guild has described the latter as a key issue in the strike.

The tentative settlement was particularly good news for NBC's top-rated "The Cosby Show." Because of the strike, production of the last three shows scheduled for this season had been shut down.

Joanne Alfano, an NBC spokeswoman, said that if the contract is ratified, production of the New York-based comedy series will resume next week, although she said she did not know if all three remaining episodes would be made. "We won't know that until Monday," Alfano said.

Another NBC spokesman, Curt Block, said network executives met Friday to discuss the status of the Cosby series as well as several other NBC programs--among them "The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson"--that would have been most immediately affected by a strike lasting more than a week.

Normal Program Schedule

"We are making plans to resume our normal program schedule," he said by telephone from New York.

He said the "Tonight Show," now in reruns, probably will resume production next Tuesday if the contract is ratified.

This weekend's "Saturday Night Live" will be a taped repeat of a December show hosted by ex-Beatle Ringo Starr. But Block said he anticipated the program would again resume its live weekly broadcasts on March 16.

NBC also has been airing reruns of the late-night David Letterman show. But, the network said, those reruns were planned before the strike because the show's star and staff were on a one-week vacation. The show may resume production Tuesday night, depending on the outcome of Monday's guild vote, Block said.

He said NBC is "delighted there's a (tentative) settlement and we hope the (guild) membership will ratify" the proposed agreement. CBS and ABC spokesmen in New York expressed similar hopes.

The negotiations that led to the tentative settlement began at 2 p.m. Thursday at the alliance's office in Sherman Oaks and did not end until shortly after 6 a.m. Friday. They were instigated by federal mediator Leonard Farrell, who attended the marathon bargaining session. He had asked each side to resume talks--with him on hand to help--in an effort to avoid a long, costly strike.

Videocassette Revenues

In the negotiations for a new contract, guild and alliance spokesmen have said, the videocassette portion of the package involved revenues only for the three-year life of the contract. The arbitration, which was conducted apart from the contract talks, involved profits from 1973 up to the Feb. 28 expiration of the guild's old contract.

Now, sources said, with the guild agreeing to drop arbitration, Friday's tentative settlement as it affects videocassette revenues "is essentially" the same as the one that helped avoid a strike last July by the Directors Guild of America.

The directors' contract with the alliance gave that guild 1.5% of the first $1 million of what the contract defined as the producers' gross from videocassette sales, and 1.8% after that.

The meetings to discuss and vote on the new offer are set for 8 p.m. Monday at the Hollywood Palladium and at 7 p.m. at the Warwick Hotel in New York. About 5,100 members in Los Angeles and 2,000 in New York are eligible to vote, the guild said.

Guild members in Los Angeles had planned to begin picketing on Tuesday, starting at CBS' Television City in West Los Angeles, but "everything's on hold now," said Joe Sutton, a guild spokesman.

Another guild spokesman, Mickey Freeman, said that if the new contract is approved by guild members, "I think they'd go right back in to work" on Tuesday morning.

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