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WGA, Studios Frame a Deal

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NEW YORK Clear progress has been marked in informal contract talks between studio execs and striking writers, stoking broad expectations that a tentative agreement may be announced sometime this week.

Such a pact with the Alliance of Motion Picture & Television Producers would have to be approved by the Writers Guild of America West board and the WGA East council and ratified by memberships on both coasts. But recent movement in key areas under negotiation, chiefly involving new-media residuals, now has industry execs expecting an imminent end to the 3-month-old work stoppage barring an unforeseen glitch as negotiators wrap up final details.

Word of the positive developments first spread Saturday, the result of two weeks of discussions between guild officials and Disney president Robert Iger, News Corp. COO Peter Chernin and other top media company execs. On Sunday, WGAW president Patric Verrone and WGAE president Michael Winship issued a joint statement to members warning that more work needed to be done to secure an actual tentative agreement.
 
"We are still in talks and do not yet have a contract," the guild presidents said. "When and if a tentative agreement is reached, the first thing we will do is alert our membership with an e-mail message. Until then, please disregard rumors about either the existence of an agreement or its terms.

"Until we have reached an agreement with the AMPTP, it is essential that we continue to show our resolve, solidarity and strength," the duo added. "Picketing will resume on Monday. Our leverage at the bargaining table is directly affected by your commitment to our cause. Please continue to show your support on the line. We are all in this together."

But despite those words of caution, a sense of optimism spread through Hollywood over the weekend -- and not a moment too soon for those hoping to salvage a star-studded Academy Awards telecast on Feb. 24. If no deal is reached by then, the WGA is expected to picket the Oscars, and that would keep actors and other celebrities away from the Kodak Theatre in droves.

Well-placed sources touted broad progress being marked in key areas, including compensation for content streamed over the Internet. Although the DGA recently reached a tentative new contract marking historic gains in new-media compensation, the writers hinted they would press for sweeter terms.