Studio officials who had been huddling among themselves were about to return to the bargaining table when the bombshell hit: East Coast writers had sent out an e-mail telling the world that the strike had begun in their time zone, at 12:01 a.m.
"Are you guys willing to stop the clock" and delay the strike so that negotiations can continue, he asked.
Young was blunt: "I said no. We're willing to keep negotiating until we reach a deal, but we're not postponing a strike."
Counter and his colleagues considered further talks futile. The meeting ended abruptly, dashing hopes for a last-minute resolution to three months of contentious negotiations that ultimately went nowhere.
The consequences were felt far and wide on Monday as writers fanned out across New York and Los Angeles, forming picket lines at scores of locations, including Paramount Pictures, Sony Pictures, CBS Television City and Warner Bros. in L.A., as well as NBC's headquarters in Manhattan's Rockefeller Center.
Amid the protests, there were no indications that the parties would be returning to the table any time soon, setting the stage for what many believed would be a long and costly strike.
"We're prepared to do whatever it takes for as long as it takes," said Young, adding that the guild would return to negotiations only if the studios were ready to seriously respond to the writers' proposals. "We should get together and keep moving forward, but it takes two sides."
For his part, Counter said Monday that no negotiations were possible as long as strikers were on the streets. Some TV studios, including Fox, ratcheted up the ill will by informing some of their star writers on Monday that compensation for overhead and development would be suspended, according to several people informed of the plan.
Sunday's meeting resulted from back-channel talks between top writers and studio executives, who pushed for one last attempt to make a deal. Negotiations had broken down on Wednesday, just hours before the writers' three-year contract expired at midnight.
At Wednesday's meeting the studios had told the guild that negotiations could not move forward unless they were willing to take one of the major issues off the table: their demand to double the home-video residuals writers receive.
Writers now get about 5 cents for every DVD sold, with studios paying out nearly $60 million in residuals a year to the West Coast guild.
Studios maintain that they can't forfeit any more of their DVD proceeds because they help offset rising marketing and production costs of movies and TV shows.
Writers balked at the demand, arguing that they had long been shortchanged by a formula that was adopted in 1985. When the home video market boomed and later DVD sales soared, writers felt cheated.
They say they are determined not to make that mistake again now that digital technology and the Internet are transforming the way entertainment is delivered.
With that in mind, guild leaders decided Sunday to focus their efforts on future revenues -- that is, new media pay -- rather than on DVD sales, which have peaked.
At about 2 p.m. Sunday, three hours into the meeting, they took their DVD demand off the table. They did so when it appeared negotiators had made modest headway on a few issues.
For example, they discussed a studio proposal to pay writers 1.2% of license fees on shows that are streamed online. Currently writers aren't paid anything for free streaming of shows, a major sticking point.