The impending AMPTP contract expiration is leaving all of Hollywood on the edge of their seats

By Vanessa Juarez
February 16, 2007 at 05:00 AM EST

I see a day when Joan and Melissa ask us what we’re wearing,” joked Writers Guild Awards host Robert Wuhl at the Feb. 11 ceremony. The put-upon scribe is a comic Hollywood stereotype — but not everyone is laughing. With the union’s contract due to expire in October, the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers — which reps networks, studios, and production companies — is already tense over upcoming negotiations. If talks stall, a strike could shut down some movie and TV production indefinitely. (The last writers’ strike was in 1988, and lasted 154 days.) What’s really going on? Here’s a quick primer:

WHAT DO THE WRITERS WANT? For one thing, a bigger cut of DVD residuals. They’re also seeking additional fees for downloaded movies and TV shows, as well as webisodes. ”That’s our product and they owe us money for it,” says Desperate Housewives creator Marc Cherry.

HOW IS THIS AFFECTING MOVIES AND TV RIGHT NOW? The networks, which announce their fall season in May, are already in de facto strike mode. Said one exec: ”The guild not agreeing to early negotiations [before May] forces us to look at a broader variety of programming as protection.” Translation: reality TV, which (theoretically) does not require writers. But don’t fret, Heroes fans: Networks will probably ask scripted show writers to turn in fall episodes early. As for movies? While screenplay deadlines may be pushed up, if the union strikes, it could simply mean fewer releases in 2008 and 2009.

WHAT HAPPENS NEXT? Talks won’t begin until July, but both sides remain optimistic. ”The sooner we get to the bargaining table, the better it is for the whole industry,” says an AMPTP spokesperson. Adds Writers Guild assistant executive director Charles Slocum: ”We look forward to a successful negotiation.”