LOS ANGELES — It is not quite peace that has broken out here in Hollywood. But emotions are finally settling down in the entertainment industry’s bubbling cauldron of labor disputes. This calm holds the promise of three years without strike threats, picket lines and the loss of Americans’ favorite television shows.
The tentative deal officially announced early Saturday morning between striking writers and Hollywood studios, networks and production companies — all but ending a three-month-old strike — has already made the threat of an actors’ strike this summer less likely. By Saturday afternoon, a pair of warring actors’ unions were trying to make amends with each other and prepare for joint contract negotiations that could suddenly prove smoother than most had dared predict a few days earlier.
Movie and television writers will almost certainly be back at work on Wednesday, pending the results of a Tuesday vote, in person or by faxed proxy, on whether to lift the strike. On Sunday, the governing boards of Writers Guild of America leaders unanimously approved the provisional deal with production companies, making approval by members likely.
“There comes a time in any strike when it is time to settle, and that time is when the pressure is greatest on both sides,” David J. Young, executive director of the Writers Guild of America West, said at a news conference Sunday at the guild’s headquarters here.
Mr. Young spoke of “huge victories” for screenwriters. He particularly cited a provision — to take effect in the third year of the contract — that calls for writers to get a percentage of revenue instead of a fixed fee for the streaming of entertainment on the Internet. Just how robust the digital media business will become remains a question, but the writers believed they needed to stake their claim now. And they wanted to avoid repeating a mistake they made some 20 years ago in agreeing to what they view as too small a piece from the sale and rental of videos and, ultimately, DVDs.
“That was the final critical issue, and producers ultimately moved on it,” Mr. Young said in an interview after the news conference. “It establishes the precedent that we wanted established.”
Not incidentally, the prospect of a writers’ settlement has already changed a complicated power equation that has kept a strike-weary business on edge about a possible walkout by perhaps 150,000 actors when their own contract expires, on June 30. With writers pointed back to work and directors having settled their new contract weeks ago, the actors would stand alone if they pressed for gains larger than those just achieved by their colleagues, especially in the contentious area of new media.
The Screen Actors Guild, which had been a staunch ally of striking writers, sharply changed directions on Saturday and tried to make peace with the more accommodating American Federation of Television and Radio Artists. The actors’ guild, with some 120,000 members, decided to drop a referendum and board resolution that would have increased its muscle on the customary joint negotiating committee it shares with the federation. The federation has about 70,000 members, more than half of whom are also in the guild.
The actors’ guild, which covers the movie industry and much television series production, has argued that its higher earnings entitled it to more bargaining power, and it was pursuing a block voting mechanism that would have solidified its power within the committee. The federation, which covers some prime-time television series, has for decades done its series and commercials bargaining in tandem with the actors’ guild. (Game shows, soap operas, and news broadcasts are dealt with in a separate negotiation.)
Rather than accede to the Screen Actors Guild’s changes within the committee, the federation had prepared to open television series talks with producers on its own in March. But the guild, after an emergency board meeting on Saturday, scratched its block voting idea and declared its desire to join the federation in talks with producers. The guild had earlier indicated it wanted to put off any negotiations until closer to its June deadline.
Reconciliation is not a given. “They need to give us some clarity on what it is they’ve actually done,” said Roberta Reardon, president of the federation, in a telephone interview Sunday.
Ms. Reardon’s union has been pressed by members to resolve Hollywood’s uncertainty by getting to the bargaining table. But its own set of successive negotiations has been postponed for months in deference to the writers and directors.
If the actors’ guild, known for its aggressive posture in talks, were to remain linked to the federation, which is widely viewed as being more pragmatic, the likelihood of an actors’ strike in June would almost certainly diminish. Kim Roberts Hedgpeth, the federation’s national executive director, has made clear that settlements with directors and writers can point the way toward relatively normal, and strike-free, negotiations for actors.
“I won’t call it a solution, but it’s a road map to a solution,” Ms. Hedgpeth said Sunday of the more generous new-media compensation approach that has emerged in the writers’ and directors’ settlements.
A spokeswoman for the Screen Actors Guild declined to comment on the union’s negotiating plans. She said her union planned to review the writers’ deal closely in coming days.
As to whether peace would prove contagious, especially where the actors are concerned, Hollywood’s sophisticates remained wary. “I would say the odds, if I were a betting man, are more toward settlement than not,” said Eric Weissmann, a veteran entertainment lawyer. But, he added, “Who knows?”
Among movie studios, the threat of an actors’ strike has already caused far more disruption than the reality of the writers’ walkout. For months, studios have been hustling to finish their feature films by early June. Indeed, while television production fell, feature film production in Los Angeles actually rose during the writers’ strike. Movie companies have been stockpiling against the possibility of what the filmmaker Terry George, speaking to writers in their New York assembly on Saturday, called “nuclear winter” — a prolonged shutdown and merged strike between actors and writers.
But there was enough sweetness and light in the air by Sunday afternoon to make the prospect of more conflict seem remote. One top executive, still too skittish to speak for the record at a time when writers were voting on their return, said his lesson from the last few months’ labor stand-off was, “People should talk to each other.”
Even Patric M. Verrone, the strike-hardened president of the West Coast writers’ guild, was joking about the joys of returning to the grind. “Writers can be back at work on Wednesday,” Mr. Verrone told the assembled media crowd at his news conference, even as his recorded voice was going out to writers on robocalls, talking up the deal and describing the vote. “Or even Tuesday night if they want to go to the office really, really late.”