Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Will the Actors Strike?! “Strikeproof?!” Is It All Much Ado About Nothing?

As American networks continue to open up their airwaves to Canadian TV, the Screen Actors Guild's senior reps appear to be chomping at the bit, threatening a strike (but not actually setting a strike vote for its membership).

The Fox network yesterday announced its involvement with Global’s The Animated Adventures of Bob and Doug Mackenzie. It joins other Canadian programs, including Flashpoint (CTV/CBS), The Listener (CTV/Fox International/NBC), Howie Do It (Global/NBC), MVP and Sophie (CBC/ABC) to find airtime on the U.S. nets.

But there looms the threat of a crippling industry strike, this time by actors. It’s worth taking a look at how serious the threat is and what it means, especially to Canadians, many of who are card-carrying SAG members.

Right now, SAG executives are fuming at their AFTRA (American Federation of Television and Radio Artists) counterparts for making a deal on its own. It’s estimated that about 40,000 of SAG’s (122,000) members are also AFTRA members. (AFTRA is about 70-000 members strong).

SAG’s leadership, helmed by actor Alan Rosenberg, knows that its power is being diluted for two primary reasons:

1) Its smaller cousin union, AFTRA, is not going to knuckle under its pressure.

2) The networks’ newfound enthusiasm for buying international programs weakens Hollywood’s power as a production centre (even more than the related scourge dubbed “runaway production.”)

New Studio Power Play:

“Hey, SAG. If you don’t like our new deal, we’ll work with AFTRA performers - maybe in Canada.
And p.s. to you, AFTRA: If you don’t like it, we’ll have a chat with ACTRA.”

SAG & AFTRA (finally in unison): “What the hell is ACTRA?”

How the mighty fall. It’s no wonder that SAG appears to be exerting more energy trying to scuttle AFTRA’s recently negotiated contract than trying to work out a deal of its own.

Even SAG president Alan Rosenberg has acknowledged that AFTRA’s contract agreement had reduced SAG’s “leverage” with the AMPTP (Association of Motion Picture and Television Producers).

Check out SAG’s website at, and note the missive directed at AFTRA members:

Send AFTRA back to bargain together with SAG
Vote No to the AFTRA contract

But AFTRA isn’t bowing to its heavyweight cousin. Not only is AFTRA digging in, today it released a statement declining SAG’s request to participate in a "discussion" about the terms of the contract, a three-year deal hashed out May 28. It marks a new era.

AFTRA has now sent the contract, one that its board of directors approved convincingly, (with a whopping 91 percent vote for), to its members for ratification. A “yes” vote by members is considered likely - results will be known on July 7.

And SAG’s execs fume. SAG’s deal expires June 30, at which time the results of AFTRA’s vote won’t be known. Check out AFTRA’s website and tune in to actors like James Cromwell (Babe) issuing edicts like: "I'm voting YES on the AFTRA Primetime TV Contract and you should vote YES too!"

SAG execs clearly realize that so-called “strikeproofAFTRA series, such as Rules of Engagement, Curb Your Enthusiasm, Cashmere Mafia and Reaper (filmed in Vancouver), weaken its position. Their attempts to interfere with AFTRA and to pressure dual members suggests that SAG's executives know the guild is not in the driver's seat.

And what does SAG think of all this buying of foreign, especially Canadian, series? We’ll have to guess, because a SAG rep has not replied to a request for comment.

Judging by how L.A.-based unions reacted to the “runaway production” issue, we can safely assume it won’t deepen a love for all things Canadian (the investment in Bob & Doug notwithstanding).

Personally, if I was a Canadian actor on a series like Reaper, I’d be crossing my fingers and praying to the icy ghost of Walt Disney that sanity prevails and that SAG reaches a deal on or before July 7.

Not so sure I’d be happy to go to work on a U.S.-network series in the event (growing more unlikely) that SAG goes on strike. But, if I was a Canadian creator or showrunner right now - well, I’d be probably be pretty tickled (and in L.A. opening up a branch office) right now. Two words. Golden. Opportunity.

What a mess. Angry SAG. Determined AFTRA. No clear solution. No going back.

There’s no business like show business. There’s no business, indeed.

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