The Writers Guild of America's strike against the film and television industry will continue until next Monday at least, Guild President Ernest Lehman said early today.
That would give Guild members a chance to consider and probably vote again on a controversial three-year contract offered by the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers.
It had been expected that the strike would be ended by a fast vote Monday night. But that hope vanished in four hours of angry and often bitter debate. That debate followed a disclosure that guild negotiators as part of what Lehman called "a deal with the alliance" agreed to recommend approval of the alliance's offer.
A number of guild members opposed this provision, but many had left the membership meeting at the Hollywood Palladium before it was revealed and so Lehman said all of Monday night's votes would be "sequestered"--not counted immediately. And, he said, "I suspect" that Monday's votes "will be replaced by a brand new ballot" when the membership meets agains at the Palladium next Monday.
Guild spokesmen, however, said there will be a press conference later today but results of the balloting will not be announced. Some producers had planned to resume filming today on series that were shut down by the strike.
Among those who had opposed the contract after hearing the disclosure about the alliance request was a man who identified himself as screenwriter Norman Wexler. He told reporters, "the negotiating team was sucked into this thing."
At least 20 guild members were seen tearing up their ballots in favor of the proposed contract and grabbing new ballots, with most saying they intended to vote against the proposed contract.
The disclosure of the alliance's preconditions for offering the new contract was confirmed by guild negotiator Allan Manings. He said he had voted against management's request before the new contract was offered at the guild meeting in the Hollywood Palladium.
Although Palladium officials initially estimated 1,800 guild members were at the meeting, guild officials later said between 2,500 and 3,000 of the West Coast guild's 5,100 members had attended Monday's stormy session.
Manings said he didn't know how the West Coast Guild members now would vote, but wryly added, "I think there's been a change in the tenor of the meeting."
Only 182 members of the East Coast Guild voted earlier Monday in New York but results of that vote were being witheld pending the outcome of the larger West Coast Guild vote. Although the latter election was to have been by voice vote, guild officials said it was changed to a paper ballot that would take several hours to count.
Wexler predicted that the membership would vote "to reject management's preposterous offer."
Lionel Chetwyn, spokesman for a minority faction called the Union Blues, came under sharp fire during the meeting for having urged ratification of both the Alliance's latest offer and what the Alliance had called its "best and final offer" last Feb. 28 after the Guild's previous contract had expired.
Later Monday night, as some Guild members sought to change their votes, Chetwyn charged "no attempt is being made to verify" the identities of those seeking new ballots on which to reject management's proposed contract.
The uproar at the Palladium sharply contrasted with predictions earlier Monday by guild spokesman Mickey Freeman, who had said guild leaders would recommend approval of the proposed contract and added:
"We think its going to sail through,"
The unexpected outcome of Monday's meeting could mean that picketing will begin today at CBS' Television City in the Fairfax district. That would be the first picketing in the strike.
Monday night's events threw a monkey wrench into the plans of NBC. Earlier Monday in anticipation of a favorable vote NBC said it was planning to resume production of its top-rated "Cosby Show" and another comedy series, "Sara," if the contract were approved.
Each series had shut down early because of the walkout which began last Tuesday after a majority of guild members voted to reject the first contract offer of the alliance which represents the three major television networks, major film studios, and film and television producers.
In anticipation of a favorable vote, NBC, which had several programs affected by the strike, had said Monday that it was planning to resume production of its top-rated "The Cosby Show" and another comedy series, "Sara." Each had to shut down early because of the walkout.
An NBC spokesman had said that if the new contract were approved, the Cosby series, which last week stopped production of the last three episodes for this season, would be able to tape two of the episodes--one a pilot for a spinoff series starring Tony Orlando.
"Sara," which stopped production with five episodes to go, would have been able to produce all the episodes and complete its 13-show season, the spokesman added.
"The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson," which reruns highlights of the program on Monday nights, would have resumed its four-night schedule of first-run programs tonight, the spokesman said. NBC's "Late Night Starring David Letterman," which took a scheduled vacation last week, also would haveresumed its regular tapings tonight.
The proposed agreement between the guild and the Alliance of Motion and Television Producers was reached early Friday, after a 16-hour negotiating session in the presence of federal mediator Leonard Farrell, who helped bring the opposing sides together.
Before he asked them to meet with him, there had been no negotiations since Feb. 28, when the guild's former contract expired.