Reality TV has taken a massive bite out of the work for SAG actors.
Statistics released Wednesday by Screen Actors Guild showed a 10% plunge in episodic television roles last year to 34,431 — a loss of 3,523 roles from 2003 — as reality programming in primetime increased from 15 to 22 hours per week.
SAG has no jurisdiction over roles on reality TV, where growth has been fueled partly due to production costs that are significantly lower than scripted series. SAG noted that in 2004, the four nets and two weblets scheduled an average of 5.1 additional hours per week of nonscripted programs (reality, news magazines, sports and variety) or the equivalent of 10 sitcoms or five drama series.
The 2004 stats contrasted sharply with the previous three years for TV, with roles totaling 37,976 in 2001, 38,689 in 2002 and 38,127 in 2003.
SAG, which compiled the employment data from producers working as guild signatories, said that nearly all of the 2004 decline came in supporting roles while lead roles remained about the same year to year.
By contrast, feature roles increased by 4% last year to 6,395. But that figure was off 37% from 2001 and 47% below 2000, when studios stockpiled films in anticipation of a SAG strike.
Newly elected SAG president Alan Rosenberg said the guild’s top priority must be to create work for its 100,000 members.
“The statistics for this year are again disturbing, and the industry must begin to address this downward trend,” he said in a statement. “The guild is more than doing its part, in particular by championing state tax incentive legislation that should lead producers to create more, not less, roles for performers. The displacement of scripted series by reality programming continues to be a severe obstacle to a working actor’s ability to earn a living.”
SAG also said Asian/Pacific Island American actors achieved an increase in overall employment from 2.5% to 2.9% due to a 21% jump in episodic television roles.
The guild said African-American actors saw 1,147 fewer roles last year due to heavy loss in episodic TV, with the overall share dropping to 13.8% from 15.3%. SAG noted the only bright spot came from a slight increase in the percentage of African-American female actors in supporting roles 40 years old and over.
Latino/Hispanic actors saw a loss of 146 roles, with 242 fewer TV roles offsetting a gain of 95 theatrical roles. Due to losses by other groups, the Latino/Hispanic overall role share edged up by 0.1% to 5.5%.
Native American actors saw a loss of 48 roles for a 0.2% share, compared with a 0.3% share in 2003.
Caucasian actors saw a loss of 2,127 roles, concentrated in episodic television, but because the losses by other groups were so significant, the share rose 1% to 74.5%. SAG said Caucasian male and female actors in lead roles who are 40 years old and over saw increases in their share of roles.