The WGA and Hollywood’s major studios have agreed to extend their contract talks into next week. The studios are awaiting a response from the guild on a new contract offer that was put on the table on Thursday, sources said.
The sides had previously agreed to meet from April 10 through today. But with today being the Good Friday holiday, the decision was made to adjust the schedule to take today off and meet again on Monday. It is believed that the sides aim to continue bargaining beyond Monday.
The specifics of the latest proposal from the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers were not immediately clear but a source said it included an effort to address the biggest compensation issue affecting TV writers — the spread of short-order series — in a way that aims to offer a compensation boost for low- and mid-level writers but not the highest-paid scribes on the production team.
The WGA rejected the studios’ previous offer, which came last month after nearly two weeks of talks.
The sides are facing a May 1 deadline for the expiration of the current WGA contract. The guild is conducting a strike authorization vote of its membership, a process that will begin on April 19 and conclude April 24. The conflicts at the bargaining table this time around are the closest that the industry has come to a broad-based strike threat in a decade, since the last WGA work stoppage that ran Nov. 5, 2007 to Feb. 12, 2008.
The WGA and AMPTP have been operating in a news blackout while negotiations are ongoing.
Earlier this week multiple sources reported that the sides were making some headway on one key issue involving the way writers are compensated when working on so-called short order series (running less than 22 episodes per season) with long production timetables.
The guild is pushing to bring fees for shows produced for cable and streaming platforms up to parity with broadcast series, and higher compensation for writers on shows where the work schedule for scribes runs more than two weeks per episode — a growing problem for writers on cable and streaming shows. The so-called “span” issue was the subject of much discussion in the negotiating room earlier this week, sources said.
The AMPTP’s new proposal is believed to basically accept the WGA’s proposed formula for boosting writer income on short-order shows but would limit those gains to the lower-rung writers on a show, and would exclude writers working under overall deals and highly paid showrunners and exec producers. It’s not clear if that targeting is structured by job classification or salary level.
The TV compensation issues are a direct result of the massive growth in series production and the evolution of the business from long-established norms of what constituted a TV season. The TV components of the WGA’s 600-page Minimum Basic Agreement are largely rooted in an industry defined by the traditional September-May, 22-episode season, but those shows are no longer the norm in TV.
As complicated as the issues are, industry sources on both sides of the AMPTP-WGA aisle with experience in contract negotiations maintain that they should not be insurmountable.
“There is a deal to be made,” said a veteran showrunner, expressing a sentiment echoed by sources on the studio side. Among the studio members of the AMPTP, sources said CBS and Warner Bros. have been the most vocal advocates for compromise on defining new compensation terms in an effort to avoid the disruption of a strike. Those congloms that are more invested in cable and streaming production — NBCUniversal, Disney and Fox — are said to have had “louder voices in the room” at the outset because the proposals on the table would raise their programming costs.
The funding needs of the WGA’s health care plan are another big issue in the talks. There’s no word yet on what the latest AMPTP proposal offers on that front.