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Writers initiate separate talks

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With no talks scheduled with Hollywood's major studios, the Writers Guild of America has begun negotiating with several small independent television and movie production companies on new employment agreements, John Bowman, the union's chief negotiator, told reporters Wednesday after a news conference. Some deals may be announced as early as next week, he predicted.

Separately, producers for the People's Choice Awards on CBS announced that they would drastically change the format of the Jan. 8 broadcast to a taped show to avoid disruption by picket lines. In the past, the show had been broadcast live.

The decision came after the Writers Guild earlier in the week declined to give waivers for striking Hollywood writers to work on the Golden Globes or Academy Awards shows.

Bowman said the interim contracts between the union and independent producers probably would require them to accept any agreement the union ultimately reaches with the big studios. The plan would work if enough smaller producers sign deals to bring the studios back to the bargaining table, he said.

"We have a number of companies that are interested in signing these agreements," Bowman said. "If you get a critical mass of people going back to business and it puts pressure on the other companies, that's something we would do."

One independent company, David Letterman's Worldwide Pants Inc., said Wednesday that it was interested in a separate deal with the union to get "Late Show With David Letterman" back on the air with new shows. CBS Corp. has been airing reruns of the talk show since the strike began Nov. 5.

If the strike continues through the end of the current television season in May, industry losses may reach $2.5 billion, Bowman said Wednesday in an appearance before the Los Angeles City Council's economic development committee.

Jack Kyser, chief economist for the Los Angeles County Economic Development Corp., said writers had lost about $122.4 million in wages since the strike began. He said the estimate came from the studios' negotiating representative, the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers.

"This strike will not kill the L.A. County economy, but it will certainly act as a brake," Kyser said.

Alliance spokesman Jesse Hiestand didn't immediately return a call seeking comment.

As for the People's Choice Awards, the show will be produced in a "magazine-style" format. Instead of a live ceremony, the show, hosted by Queen Latifah, will consist of taped segments and prerecorded acceptance speeches.

Industry sources said the change in format came as a direct result of concerns about striking writers on picket lines discouraging movie, television and music stars from attending the ceremonies.

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