WGA strike officially over; TV writers return to work

February 13, 2008

LOS ANGELES — Hollywood’s writers made it official on Tuesday night, voting to end their bitterly fought strike at the 100-day mark by an overwhelming margin.

“The strike is over. Our membership has voted, and writers can go back to work,” Patric M. Verrone, president of the West Coast guild, said in a statement.

The decision to end the strike became all but inevitable after the guilds’ governing boards on Sunday unanimously approved the tentative three-year agreement with the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers, following strong expressions of support at mass meetings on both coasts.

Union members must still decide whether to ratify the contract in coming days. But Tuesday’s vote to end the strike brought relief to an industry that wants to get its television productions and future movie schedules back in order.

Wednesday morning will bring a rush to the office by television writers who are especially eager to get existing series like the CBS comedy “Two and a Half Men” and the ABC drama “Grey’s Anatomy” quickly up to speed.

The strike upended the television viewing habits of millions of Americans by shutting down production on most dramas and comedies and forced movie studios to halt some big-budget films. It also dried up the livelihoods of not just the 12,000 guild members but tens of thousands of people who rely on such productions for work.

How much economic damage was wrought by the walkout has been subject to debate.

Writers predicted that the strike would cause $2.5 billion in economic losses if it continued to the five-month mark, as did their 1988 strike. But a report from the Anderson School of Management at the University of California, Los Angeles, estimated losses for a strike of that length at only about $380 million, because companies had already spent heavily to stockpile programs and other factors.

As of Tuesday afternoon, a running tally by the producers’ alliance estimated that the walkout had cost writers about $285 million in lost wages and had cost workers in other film unions nearly $500 million.

The strike’s end appeared to make a walkout by Hollywood’s actors less likely when their contract expires June 30. The actors’ unions have not yet opened negotiations; but the road map for digital media compensation laid out in recent agreements with both writers and directors raised the prospect that similar solutions could work with actors.

The writers’ dispute was settled when company executives — notably Peter Chernin, the News Corporation president, and Robert A. Iger, the Walt Disney chief executive — opened talks with Mr. Verrone, along with David J. Young, executive director of the West Coast guild, and John Bowman, who headed the unions’ negotiating committee. A crucial break came when the two sides created a provision that provides the guilds a gain in the payment for digital distribution of entertainment beyond the terms of a recent deal between Hollywood producers and the Directors Guild of America.

Leslie Moonves, chief executive of CBS, said Hollywood executives might do well to spend more time with guild leaders in coming months, if peace is to prevail in the long term. “The lesson is, we shouldn’t meet every three years,” he said.

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