Strikers picket during the 2007–08 writers strike at NBC studios in Burbank, California.

David Mcnew / Getty Images

The Writers Guild of America reached a tentative deal in negotiations with Hollywood studios early Tuesday morning, averting a writers strike just hours after their contract had expired.

In an email sent Tuesday morning to WGA members who had volunteered to be "contract captains" — point people for the Guild — the WGA said it had reached a "tentative agreement" with the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers, more simply referred to as "the studios."

The email contained no details about the new contract, saying they would be revealed Thursday, May 4, at the WGA headquarters in Los Angeles.

The result of a strike authorization vote among WGA members, taken in April, was an authoritative 96%. The walkout was to begin Tuesday at 12:01 a.m Pacific Time when the current contract expired, but after that deadline passed, it was clear that the Guild and the studios were closing in on a deal.

A statement from the WGA at 1:36 a.m. read: "The Writers Guilds of America, West and East and the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers have concluded negotiations and have reached a tentative agreement on terms for a new three-year collective bargaining agreement."

The main issues at stake during the negotiations were writers' demands for higher pay, tied to immense industry profits — $51 billion last year, the Guild said. But perhaps most important, the WGA wanted greater AMPTP contributions to the union's health insurance fund, which is in danger of being insolvent.

Regarding higher compensation, among other demands, the Guild wanted writers to be paid for their time rather than per episode. Short television seasons have become the norm, rather than the exception, but even with short seasons of 8, 10, or 13 episodes, writers typically work the same, or similar, lengths of time as they would on a full network season of 22 episodes.

The WGA also wanted pay disparities for script fees to be leveled so that the minimums are the same, regardless of whether a show is on a broadcast network, basic cable, premium cable, or a streaming service. And it wanted more money for writers' shows appearing on streaming services, because residuals for reruns, which writers have relied on for supplemental income, have faded as a revenue source.

Negotiations initially began March 13. The WGA's negotiating committee sent a letter to members in March that said "the economic position of writers has declined sharply." The letter noted that the average salary of a TV writer-producer had fallen 23% in the past two years.

The last WGA strike, which began in November 2007 and lasted 100 days, put thousands of people out of work.

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