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Could SAG Really Walk?

6/13/2008 08:00:00 PM Eastern

There's no way there could really be another strike, is there?

That vexing question got a little louder around the television industry last week as the Screen Actors Guild turned up the rhetoric in its fight with both the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists and the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers.

The television business is in transition (to put it nicely), the economy is in the tank (to put it very nicely) and all of us are still kicking WGA-strike dirt off our shoes.

And a report released last week said the writers' strike cost California alone the equivalent of a decent-sized country's GNP. Or roughly John Malone's salary.

So another work stoppage seems unthinkable, even if the actors suddenly got their house in order and the AMPTP foolishly decided to go to the mattresses. It's hard to see either happening, so many industry insiders haven't been too concerned.

But while AMPTP execs aren't talking on the record, insiders there say they aren't sure if SAG even has a defined strategy, and it's making them nervous. One of them called SAG chief Alan Rosenberg a “loose cannon.”

Whether it's posturing or not, insiders from both sides told me last week they were far apart on a deal. But a strike is by no means a foregone conclusion, even if two upcoming deadlines come and go.

The first is June 30; that's when SAG's contract with the majors is up. Fellow guild AFTRA already has a deal in place with the AMPTP that its members will vote on July 7.

I won't bore you with details of the proposals. I'm betting you still couldn't recite exactly who got what from the 100-day writers' strike. Don't worry; me neither.

Anyway, SAG says it hates the deal, and wants its 44,000 members who also belong to AFTRA to vote it down. That block makes up more than half of AFTRA's total.

Last Monday, SAG held an AFTRA-bashing jamboree at its Los Angeles headquarters, attended by hundreds of members. But I had to wonder, with so many out-of-work actors in attendance, who was taking orders at all the restaurants in town that day?

SAG's Rosenberg led the rousing rally, and the best part may have been that known actors in attendance were jockeying for position near him so they could be in the shots taken by the media.

After the rally, a more relaxed Rosenberg lit up a smoke and told me he was definitely concerned that, issues aside, the town couldn't contemplate another strike.

“Of course it worries me,” he acknowledged. “I hate the fact that this town lost that much revenue, and workers across the board were put out of work. That's a real problem, and I'm painfully aware of that.”

He also wishes he could mobilize his troops like the writers did. “They didn't get the kind of resistance from their members that we get from ours,” he said. “That's a problem we always have to grapple with.”

The actors' situation is messy. In addition to the SAG-AFTRA fight, you have an East Coast-West Coast SAG rift, as well as the question of how much of the SAG faithful would really back a work stoppage.

And that is top of Rosenberg's mind. He is thinking about when to ask his members to vote to authorize a strike. While that was just a formality for the writers, he is not certain he would get the votes.

So as of last week, he wasn't sure when he would raise the idea of authorization. “I really don't know,” he said. “It depends on our assessment of whether we can get it or not. I think we'd get it.”

So while Rosenberg says there is “no magic” in the June 30 date and actors could work on without a deal, the sides were continuing to meet late last week. And now, more of us are starting to pay attention.

To listen to a podcast on this week's issue of B&C magazine, click here.E-mail comments to ben.grossman@reedbusiness.com

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