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Tempers flare as studios break off talks with writers

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  • Industry accuses negotiators of pushing political agendas
  • Writers say they're ready to talk when studios are
  • Studios demand proposal on new-media residuals be dropped, writers say
  • Television writers stopped work November 5; TV shows on hold
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LOS ANGELES, California (CNN) -- Talks to end Hollywood's writers' strike abruptly ended Friday evening as studio negotiators walked out, accusing Writers Guild of America leaders of putting personal political agendas above the interests of writers.

Striking Hollywood writers rally in Burbank, California, Friday to call attention to their demands.

The writers' negotiators said they remain ready to continue talks "no matter how intransigent our bargaining partners are."

Statements from each side suggested they were far from a settlement to the five-week-long walkout. Both sides became more entrenched in their differences over what share of residuals writers would get for Internet and DVD distribution of shows and as new demands emerged.

Production on dozens of TV series and movies halted last month. More are expected to shut down in December unless a new three-year contract between the WGA and the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers is negotiated.

The level of personal dislike among those around the bargaining table boiled to the surface in statements issued after the talks imploded Friday evening.

"The WGA organizers sitting across the table from us have never concluded even one industry accord," the studios' statement said.

The writers' chief negotiator, David Young, is a veteran of garment and construction industry contract talks and a newcomer to Hollywood negotiations.

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"While the WGA's organizers can clearly stage rallies, concerts and mock exorcisms, we have serious concerns about whether they're capable of reaching reasonable compromises that are in the best interests of our entire industry," the studios' statement said.

"It is now absolutely clear that the WGA's organizers are determined to advance their own political ideologies and personal agendas at the expense of working writers and every other working person who depends on our industry for their livelihoods."

While the main issues on the table involved how much writers would be paid when their work is distributed through new media -- including DVDs and the Internet -- the latest impasse was apparently triggered by WGA demands that it be given jurisdiction over the growing production of reality shows and animation.

The chairman of the WGA's negotiating committee, John Bowman, said that when the studios' negotiator, Nick Counter, walked out of talks he delivered "a total rejection of our proposal on Internet streaming" and an ultimatum about the other demands.

Bowman said Counter told him the studios would not return until the guild took those demands -- and another to base Internet residuals on a distributor's gross profits -- off the table.

"This would require us to concede most of our Internet proposal as a precondition for continued bargaining," Bowman said. "The AMPTP insists we let them do to the Internet what they did to home video."

While Bowman indicated the WGA negotiators would not give in to the ultimatum, he said they "remain ready and willing to negotiate, no matter how intransigent our bargaining partners are, because the stakes are simply too high."

"We were prepared to counter their proposal tonight, and when any of them are ready to return to the table, we're here, ready to make a fair deal," Bowman said.

Scriptwriters put down their pens and hit the picket lines on November 5 after failing to reach agreement on a contract to replace the one that expired two days earlier. E-mail to a friend E-mail to a friend

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