Negotiators for striking union actors and advertisers have taken a major step toward settling the five-month work stoppage as both sides agreed to bring in full bargaining teams starting Monday.
The announcement came Friday at the conclusion of three days of bargaining under the supervision of federal mediators. Negotiators, under a mediator-imposted gag order, would only say in a joint statement, “The parties agreed to continue their negotiations on Monday with both sides bringing their full negotiating committees to New York.”
But the continuation of the talks gives a strong indication that advertisers have finally come off their demand for replacing the 40-year-old residuals system for network TV ads with upfront buyouts. Screen Actors Guild prexy William Daniels, who has been attending the talks, has been explicit in insisting that the full teams would not return to the table unless advertisers dropped the demand to eliminate “pay per play” residuals.
Actors have characterized the proposal as a rollback and argued that it would not fairly compensate them for the over-exposure resulting from ads airing repeatedly.
Still, the decision to extend is no guarantee that the two sides can reach a settlement in what has been a bitter dispute involving complex issues. SAG and the American Federation of Television & Radio Artists are also seeking cable residuals, Internet jurisdiction and a monitoring system.
The unions struck advertisers on May 1, two weeks after negotiations collapsed. Two efforts by mediators to re-launch negotiations floundered in June and July, even though SAG and AFTRA brought their full teams to New York, amid bitter recriminations by both sides.
The ad industry has insisted it has been able to continue producing ad spots at pre-strike levels, mostly by using non-union talent, but SAG and AFTRA have contended that the quantity and quality of new ads has plummeted. The unions have staged hundreds of demonstrations at non-union shoots and against a trio of corporate targets — AT&T, General Motors and McDonald’s.
Celebrity support for the actors has gathered steam in recent weeks with such heavyweights as George Clooney, Richard Dreyfuss, Harrision Ford, Tom Hanks, Paul Newman, Susan Sarandon and Kevin Spacey either making donations to the strike relief fund or giving speeches at rallies.
The strike has been closely watched within Hollywood not just for the economic impact — estimated at $200 million in lost revenue for Los Angeles County — but also as a gauge of the probability that actors will strike next July when their theatrical/TV contract runs out.