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The beginning of an end to writers' strike

The Baltimore Sun

Hollywood could be back on its feet as early as Monday.

The major studios and the Writers Guild of America are putting the finishing touches on a deal that could bring an end to the costly walkout. Yesterday, the two sides were expected to finalize terms of a three-year contract that Guild leaders plan to present to thousands of writers in Los Angeles and New York today. The Guild board could approve the contract tomorrow and encourage writers to return to work the next day, according to people close to the negotiations.

Studio executives and TV producers have been preparing for that day for the past two weeks, hoping to salvage the remainder of the television season by quickly revving up production to bring back shows that have been languishing in repeats or were taken off the air.

"Everyone is motivated to get back to work as quickly as possible," said Jonathan Littman, president of Jerry Bruckheimer Television, which produces CSI: Crime Scene Investigation and The Amazing Race, among other shows, for CBS.

"They want to begin producing as many original episodes as they can."

Movies that were derailed by the strike also could lurch back, including high-profile projects such as Columbia Pictures' Da Vinci Code prequel Angels & Demons and Warner Bros.' Shantaram, starring Johnny Depp.

Films are blessed with long lead times, and last summer studio executives accelerated development and production schedules in anticipation of a strike. As a result, the movie industry was not as hard hit by the Nov. 5 work stoppage as broadcast TV.

Production shut down in December and January, after the supply of TV scripts had been depleted.

It will take four to six weeks and tens of millions of dollars to ramp up TV production in dozens of cavernous sound- stages in Los Angeles, Burbank, Calif., and New York, and not every prime-time series will immediately return to the air.

"It's not just flipping a switch and having everything come right back on," said Barry Jossen, executive vice president of production for ABC Studios. "There are a lot of factors and considerations that go into these decisions. We are trying to determine the amount of material that was finished before the strike started, the creative status of the show and the broadcast schedule needs."

Only about 10 to 20 prime-time network programs are likely to return this spring with fresh episodes, including some of TV's biggest hits, such as Grey's Anatomy on ABC and CSI on CBS. Some viewers might not see new episodes of their favorites until fall -- at the earliest. Shows with complex plots, large casts and complicated production elements, such as NBC's Heroes and Fox's 24, are expected to roll over to next season.

Meg James, Matea Gold and Maria Elena Fernandez write for the Los Angeles Times.

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