TV Networks Prepare for Long Strike

As Hollywood writers began a strike Monday against movie and television companies, producers and TV networks prepared to weather a prolonged work stoppage.

A federal mediator summoned negotiators for the striking Writers Guild of America and the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers to a meeting set for today.

Leonard Farrell, an officer of the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service, said he scheduled the talks for 10 a.m. at his office in Los Angeles. The service cannot force arbitration of labor disputes, but it can encourage continued talks.

Contract negotiations between the 9,000-member guild and about 200 companies represented by the alliance collapsed Sunday night as the two sides failed to reach agreement on a producers' demand for rollbacks of one-hour TV show residuals and on other issues. The writers strike affects the major studios, TV networks, and independent production companies.

About 2,000 writers and representatives of other unions picketed 20th Century Fox Film Corp.'s Century City studio. Pickets included actor Albert Brooks, producer Lawrence Gordon, and Screen Actors Guild President Patty Duke.

The guild said picketing is set for Wednesday in MGM/UA Communication Co.'s New York office, and for next Monday at ABC's West 67th Street production facility in Manhattan. Picketing will widen to other Los Angeles sites later this week, the guild said.

At alliance headquarters in Sherman Oaks, company negotiator J. Nicholas Counter III told a press conference that he believes the strike might last even longer than the writers' three-month 1981 walkout because the producers are not prepared to alter a final offer that they say would increase writers' compensation by $50 million over three years.

Counter also said the producers are seeking non-guild writers to help keep soap operas, game shows, and other TV shows in operation. "Our companies are encouraging whatever people would like to write scripts to come forward. Work is available," he said.

Cheryl Rhoden, a guild spokeswoman, said any writers who work during the strike "will never be given membership in the guild."

Rhoden said the writers were willing to resume talks but were also prepared to endure a long strike if necessary. She said the guild has a $2.7-million strike fund, compared with a fund that totaled several hundred thousand dollars in 1985. Writers struck for two weeks in 1985.

The three major TV networks, which produce a total of 12 daytime serials, all said they had enough scripts in hand to keep the soap operas on the air for the next several weeks.

NBC's "Tonight" show is set to be taped with comedian Jay Leno standing in for Johnny Carson and apparently using his own material, an NBC spokeswoman said. The program will use reruns if the strike continues beyond today, NBC said.

The same network's "Late Night With David Letterman" had already been scheduled to show reruns this week and won't resume taping of new shows as planned on March 15 if the strike continues.

Spokesmen for NBC and ABC said they didn't see any immediate effect on their prime-time series, most of which have finished shooting for the current season.

A CBS spokesman said his network was still "evaluating" possible effects on its prime-time series. The spokesman declined to say whether the strike would hurt the network's new mid-season replacement shows such as "Eisenhower and Lutz" and "Trial and Error," for which only a limited number of episodes were prepared.

Counter said he does not expect a major effect on prime-time shows or movie production for at least three months.

But Ed Zwick, co-executive producer of ABC's "thirtysomething," took issue with the notion that prime-time shows wouldn't be affected for a long while.

"That while is quicker in coming than anyone cares to admit," Zwick said. "In fact, I think we'll probably have to stop one episode short (of the end of the season). We're not done with all our scripts."

Times staff writers Diane Haithman, Jay Sharbutt and Henry Weinstein contributed to this article.