By Associated Press
LOS ANGELES (AP) - A devastating, three-month walkout that brought the entertainment industry to a standstill ended Tuesday when Hollywood writers voted to lift their union's strike order and return to work Wednesday.
The move allows some TV series to return this spring with a handful of new episodes. It also clears the way for the Academy Awards to be staged on Feb. 24 without the threat of pickets or a boycott by actors that would have dulled the glamour of Hollywood's signature celebration.
"At the end of the day, everybody won. It was a fair deal and one that the companies can live with, and it recognizes the large contribution that writers have made to the industry," Leslie Moonves, chief executive officer of CBS Corp., told The Associated Press.
Moonves was among the media executives who helped broker a deal after negotiations between the guild and the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers, which represents studios, collapsed in acrimony in December.
Residuals for TV shows and movies distributed online was the most contentious issue in the bitter dispute involving the 12,000-member union and the world's largest media companies and other producers.
Under a tentative contract approved Sunday by the union's board of directors, writers would get a maximum flat fee of about $1,200 for streamed programs in the deal's first two years and then get 2 percent of a distributor's gross in year three - a key union demand.
Other provisions include increased residual payments for downloaded movies and TV programs.
"These advances now give us a foothold in the digital age," said Patric Verrone, president of the guild's West Coast chapter. "Rather than being shut out of the future of content creation and delivery, writers will lead the way as television migrates to the Internet."
Writers who voted in New York and Beverly Hills were overwhelmingly in favor of ending the strike: 3,492 voted yes, with only 283 voting to stay off the job.
Most writers were happy about the outcome and eager to return to work.
"It will be all hands on deck for the writing staff," said Chris Mundy, co-executive producer of CBS' drama "Criminal Minds." He hopes to get a couple of scripts in the pipeline right away, with about seven episodes airing by the end of May.
Not all shows will get back on the air. Networks might not resume production of low-rated programs that have a questionable future.
Writers did not vote on whether to formally accept the tentative deal, which was reached after a Feb. 1 breakthrough between union negotiators and studio executives.
The guild will mail contract ratification ballots to members over the next few days. Writers can also vote at meetings. All ballots must be cast by Feb. 25.
The walkout stopped work on dozens of TV shows, disrupted movie production and turned the usually star-studded Golden Globes show into a news conference. It also dealt a severe financial blow to a wide range of businesses dependent on work from studios.
The strike took a $3.2 billion toll in direct and indirect costs on the economy of Los Angeles County, the home of most of the nation's TV and film production, according to a new estimate from Jack Kyser, chief economist for the Los Angeles Economic Development Corp.
The last writers strike, a 153-day walkout in 1988, caused an estimated $500 million in lost wages.
The latest strike began Nov. 5, and formal negotiations broke off Dec. 7 after the guild pushed to unionize writers on reality and animated productions.
Informal talks began Jan. 23 between studio heads and the union, which extended an olive branch by withdrawing its proposal to organize reality and animated shows. It also decided against picketing the Grammy Awards.
Pressure to reach an agreement mounted after the studio alliance reached a tentative contract Jan. 17 with the Directors Guild of America. That deal also brought improved payment for content offered on the Internet.
Among the executives who took the lead in breaking the impasse were Peter Chernin, chief operating officer of News Corp., and Robert Iger, CEO of The Walt Disney Co.
Michael R. Perry, a writer for "Persons Unknown" and other TV dramas, said the deal made him hopeful the guild and studios could be "partners in a growing pie" of Internet revenue.
"I want them to be fabulously, filthy rich. I just want my piece," Perry said.
Hollywood's labor pains may not be over, said Jonathan Handel, an entertainment attorney with the Los Angeles firm of TroyGould and a former associate counsel for the writers guild.
He pointed out that the contract between studios and the Screen Actors Guild is due to expire in June.