URGENT

Striking Hollywood writers to vote on contract, could end 3-month walkout as soon as Wednesday

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By LYNN ELBER

AP Entertainment Writer

LOS ANGELES (AP) -- The Writers Guild of America moved swiftly Sunday toward a resolution of its three-month-old strike, with guild leaders deciding to recommend the contract to members and ask them to vote on a quick end to the walkout.

By asking writers to vote separately on ending the strike and accepting the contract, the union cleared the way for the entertainment industry to return to work almost immediately.

Membership meetings will be held Tuesday in New York and Los Angeles to allow writers to decide whether the strike should be brought to a speedy end, said Patric Verrone, president of the guild's West Coast branch.

"This the best deal this guild has bargained for in 30 years," Verrone said.

The tentative contract secures writers a share of the burgeoning digital-media market, he said, including compensation for Internet-delivered TV shows and movies.

"If they (producers) get paid, we get paid. This contract makes that a reality," Verrone said. But, he added, "it is not all we hoped for and it is not all we deserved."

Still, the union's negotiating committee recommended Saturday that the contract be accepted, and the West branch's board of directors and the East Coast branch's council agreed. They called for a membership ratification vote, which will be conducted by mail over about two weeks.

Show runners -- industry lingo for the executive producers in charge of a TV series -- are expected to be back at work Monday, preparing for the return of writers as soon as Wednesday, industry members said.

Although show runners are also guild members, they are allowed to work as long as they focus only on producer-related tasks.

Member approval of the contract and the strike's end appeared likely. At heavily attended membership meetings Saturday in New York and Los Angeles, there was resounding support for the proposed deal that could put TV and movie production back on track, salvage the rest of the TV season and remove a boycott threat from this month's Oscars.

The strike shut down production of TV comedies and dramas and disrupted moviemaking and Hollywood's glamorous awards season.

Verrone thanked television viewers who "tolerated three months of reruns and reality TV."

The guild's major bargaining concession to studios was agreeing to take unionization of animation and reality TV shows off the table, Verrone said. The guild has said it still intends to pursue those goals.

Negotiating committee chairman John Bowman said a turning point in negotiations was last month's Golden Globes, when its star-studded ceremony was scrapped after actors refused to cross writers' picket lines.

The Globes showed the strength of the writers' resolve and solidarity, Bowman said.

The threat of a similar fate for this month's Academy Awards also was a powerful bargaining chip, said chief negotiator David Young.

"It was going to be a huge thing for the industry to lose the Oscars," Young said. The Feb. 24 ceremony now appears likely to proceed in its full glory and with writers on board to script host and presenter banter.

Academy spokeswoman Leslie Unger said Saturday that Oscar organizers were hopeful but that writing on the ceremony could not begin until the strike was over.

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AP Movie Writer David Germain contributed to this report.