SAG, advertisers returning to table

Meanwhile, big stars back SAG fundraiser

HOLLYWOOD — Federal mediators have tentatively scheduled informal talks between striking actors and advertisers in two weeks, giving hope that the two sides can be nudged back to the bargaining table.

The discussions will take place either July 20 or 21 in New York, under the supervision of the Federal Mediation & Conciliation Service, in an attempt to re-start negotiations for the first time since April 14.

The session will be likely to be structured similarly to the mediator-organized get-together on June 14, where both sides reviewed details of their proposals but never found enough common ground to resume formal negotiations.

“It’s hard to tell if this will lead to anything until we know more,” said John McGuinn, chief negotiator for the advertising industry. “I’m the eternal optimist but it has not been justified so far.”

The mediators will face a daunting task with the strike now in its 66th day. Both sides have given no indication of any willingness to compromise on basic positions.

The Screen Actors Guild and the American Federation of Television & Radio Artists are seeking “pay for play” residuals for cable TV ads, creation of a monitoring system and jurisdiction over the Internet; advertisers want a revamp of network TV ad payments through a “guaranteed residual” system of upfront payments. Actors claim the advertiser proposal represents a rollback amid a solid economy.

“The advertisers’ proposal is a great pay cut for our people,” said SAG president William Daniels in a recent fund-raiser held for high-profile members. “We are not going to take that kind of cut in this era of prosperity.”

For his part, McGuinn said, “I’d say there’s not much change among the industry’s beliefs. They are adamant against pay for play on cable.”

The actors have been on strike since May 1 and have promised in recent weeks to take a more militant stance. They plan to take part in an extensive series of July 11 protests nationwide, organized with the Communications Workers of America, against AT&T over recent anti-union stances such as failure to sign an interim agreement that would allow union actors to perform in commercials.

“We are going to be more in people’s faces,” promised strike coordinator Todd Amorde at the fund-raiser. “It’s certainly not going to be business as usual.”

The unions attracted dozens of its high-profile members, including Warren Beatty, David Hyde Pierce, Kevin Spacey, Richard Dreyfuss and James Coburn, to the Friday night fundraiser at the Beverly Hills home of Joe Bologna and Rene Taylor. At the event, which was held to raise $100,000 for advertising for the unions, many actors expressed anger over what they see as an assault on the 40-year-old system of residuals.

“All we want is what we’ve always gotten and what they’re proposing has a very greedy ring to it,” said Coburn, who has performed extensively in voice-over for ads in recent years after he began suffering from arthritis. “Voice-overs saved my life, so I’m part of this thing.”

Other attendees included Tom Selleck, Shelley Long, Esther Williams, Mark Hamill, Robert Blake, Lou Diamond Phillips, Jack Klugman, Tom Bosley, Gary Busey, Noah Wyle, Elliot Gould, Sally Kirkland, Robert Stack, Barbara Bain, Hal Linden, Steve Allen and Jayne Meadows. Several said they have become active in the current dispute because it will have a profound impact on negotiations next year when the SAG/AFTRA TV-theatrical contract expires.

“People have such fantasies about us that when we’re not on screen, we spend our time lying by our swimming pools when the truth is that most SAG members have trouble paying their bills,” said Finunla Flanagan. “I think it’s marvelous that there’s such a show of solidarity.”

Several attendees accused advertisers of trying to break the unions. “What the advertisers are trying to do by eliminating residuals is the most appalling form of greed that I cry thinking about it,” said Diane Ladd.

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