The Writers Guild of America has called a strike against six public television stations, including WETA in Washington, that produce programming distributed nationally by the Public Broadcasting Service (PBS).
It is unlikely, however, that the strike will have any noticeable effect on public TV programs in the near future.
Other stations struck by the Guild are WGBH in Boston ("Masterpiece Theater," "Nova"), KCET in Los Angeles ("Hollywood Television Theater"), WQED in Pittsburgh ("Once Upon A Classic," "National Geographic Specials") KQED in San Francisco ("Over Easy," "Turnabout") and WTTW in Chigago ("Book Beat," "Soundstage").
The nation's largest public TV production center, WNET in New York, is not affected because it reached a separate contract agreement with the Guild earlier this year.
A Guild spokesman New York said yesterday that negotiations with the six stations broke down Monday because the stations would not agree to the stipulation that anyone providing "literary services" be covered by the contract.
Attorney Wayne Coy, negotiator for WETA, said the Guild's demands would result in "monumental" cost increases for the stations, because much of what the Guild considers writing is now done by staff personnel who are not Guild members. Coy said the Guild is also seeking to extend its jurisdiction to cover public affairs as well as framatic programming.
The Guild spokesman in New York said the minimums now paid for one-hour scripts by commercial and public stations - $8,085 and $8,655 respectively - do not differ significantly but that commercial contracts include substantial additional payments when programs are repeated, while public TV's contracts do not.
"Because we felt that public broadcasting should be nurtured," the Guild spokesman said, "we left them alone for years and years, but writers on something like 'The Adams Chronicles' were treated shabbily and the work demanded of them was absolutely outrageous."
Neither side would predict when negotiations might resume.