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Last Updated: Wednesday, 31 October 2007, 10:41 GMT
Hollywood writers ready to strike
By Peter Bowes
BBC News, Los Angeles

Ugly Betty
Popular shows such as Ugly Betty could bear the brunt of the action

Some of the most popular shows on US television could be forced off the air if writers go ahead with a strike over pay.

Scriptwriters will log off their computers if a last-minute deal cannot be reached over royalty payments.

The dispute, which could cripple Hollywood, is over the fees writers receive when their work is reproduced on DVDs, the internet, mobile phones and other electronic devices.

Five thousand members of the Writers Guild of America recently took part in a ballot and 90% voted in favour of industrial action.

The dispute focuses attention on the rapidly growing market for on-demand entertainment.

"There's going to be an enormous revenue stream coming from the internet," says veteran writer Marc Zicree.

Mr Zicree directed and co-wrote the new Star Trek episode, Star Trek New Voyages: World Enough and Time, which was released exclusively via the internet.

"It's just to make sure that writers get a fair portion of the billions of dollars that are generated from what comes out of their brains."

'Financial survival'

Hollywood writers have long felt that their work is undervalued.

"Many producers view the written word as somewhat dispensable," says Mr Zicree's wife and writing partner, Elaine, who is also a guild member.

Hollywood sign
Hollywood writers fear networks will resort to repeats and reality shows

"The new word is 'monetise' and they're trying to find new ways to monetise the internet. More and more things can be downloaded.

"Although there isn't much money in it now, the potential is really vast and the writers are desperate not to be cut out of it because it's a matter of financial survival."

The industry's attitude towards the internet and new media appears to be the sticking point.

"We will not increase residual payments for video cassette and DVD use, including electronic downloads," said Nick Counter, president of the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers, following a recent round of negotiations.

The effects of any strike would not be felt immediately. In fact it could be months before the TV networks run out of programmes that have already been made.

But if the dispute drags on, Hollywood analysts expect the supply of shows such as Desperate Housewives, Ugly Betty and CSI to fizzle out by next spring.

Many writers fear the TV networks will simply turn to more repeats and reality programmes to fill the gap left by scripted shows.

Film threat

Behind the scenes, the stoppage will cripple Hollywood's factory-like approach to making movies and TV shows.

It will not be possible to develop new ideas and fine tune scripts that are already in the works.

Film-making will be disrupted because writers are usually on hand to make last-minute changes or tweak lines as they are about to be delivered by the actors on set.

"You'll start to see films and TV shows of lower quality because scripts are being rushed.

"Right now there is a drive to get scripts in - so they won't have the polish the final gloss that you would normally have," says Mr Zicree.

There are also fears that a strike will have a wider, knock-on effect on the many Los Angeles businesses that rely on the entertainment industry.

"The strike will have a ripple effect," says Mrs Zicree.

"All the restaurant people are scared."

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