Some credited the efforts of federal mediators. Others lauded the Writers Guild of America negotiating committee that spent hours in marathon negotiating sessions with the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers.
But, in Hollywood's own true cloak-and-dagger tradition, Byzantine politics and behind-the-scenes drama were being played out to the end. Enough plot twists, suspense elements and high-concept characters emerged in the final days of the strike to satisfy the most demanding story editor.
The last skirmish began in late July with the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service's insistence that the sides meet in a final effort to break an impasse that had begun with the walkout March 7. Here's how the battle played out.
Thursday, July 21
On the eve of federally mediated talks, chief Writers Guild negotiator Brian Walton told reporters that J. Nicholas Counter III, chief negotiator for the Alliance, had warned him in a telephone conversation to expect nothing from the sessions.
The exchange appeared to be a low point in relations between the two individuals.
Counter, Walton claimed, had said the strike would now have to be settled "by forces outside the collective bargaining process"--a statement so severe that Walton said he was contemplating a National Labor Relations Board charge against companies for bad-faith bargaining.
Counter called the claim a lie.
One of the studio chiefs that afternoon contended that Counter's call had been well-intentioned, and was provoked by word that the union was banking on several peace initiatives that were advanced by informal intermediaries, but didn't have any actual backing from the producers. By the executive's account, this was supposed to keep Walton from being decoyed by several unauthorized peace initiatives.
Saturday, July 23
After negotiations began, tempers heated when the Associated Press reported, according to messages on the Guild's computerized bulletin board, that federal mediator Floyd Wood was threatening in the closed-door sessions to levy fines against the producers for stonewalling.
The mediator was sufficiently incensed by the report to call individual reporters, despite the news blackout, and assure them that both sides were bargaining hard in the session.
But, according to one company chief, Walton's stonewalling charges became material in shaping Counter's instructions for the session. Counter was warned, he said, that Walton's strategy would be to embarrass the producers publicly by making them appear to be unyielding villains.
So Counter was told not to leave the sessions without giving the writers something. "You give them one more inch. Just an inch. But give them that," the executive recalled of the strategy.
Friday, July 29
The final mediated meeting was convened at 4 p.m. after a week of bitterness. During mass picketing earlier in the week one writer sported a T-shirt calling producers "money-grubbing scum." Meanwhile, Fox Inc. Chairman Barry Diller challenged Guild leaders to a televised debate. He offered to give the show "however many hours are necessary" on Fox-owned KTTV, and to press fellow Los Angeles station owners such as Disney to simulcast the debate. Guild leaders declined.
The final "inch" from the producers turned out to be their agreement in principle to a writer-proposed deal on foreign residuals that would have allowed a 25% bonus residual on hit one-hour shows, but only if the programs had first made at least $400,000 in the domestic syndication market.