SAG still paying price for tough stance in 2008-09

The American Federation of Television and Radio Artists has remained the dealmaker of choice this pilot season, as producers shunned SAG for the fourth year in a row.

Producers signed deals with AFTRA on 73 of the 90 pilots set to be shot this season, while SAG — which once dominated primetime — took only 17.

AFTRA has 40 of the half-hour pilots and 33 of the hourlong shows, while SAG covers seven in the half-hour and 10 in the hourlong domain.

Disclosure comes with merger voting about to wrap up for members of SAG and AFTRA. Results are set to be announced Friday. At least 60% of those voting in each union must approve for the merger — which would create SAG-AFTRA as a successor entity — to go through.

SAG and AFTRA, which share jurisdiction on primetime shows shot in digital formats, had no comment. But this pilot season appears to be a repeat of a trend launched in 2009, when strike saber-rattling by SAG leaders sent nearly all of the studios and producers into the arms of AFTRA.

AFTRA has signed 21 pilots each for ABC and NBC, a dozen each for CBS and Fox and five for the CW.

Among the more notable are “1600 Penn,” starring Bill Pullman and Jenna Elfman for NBC; “Arrow,” starring Stephen Amell for CW; “Hannibal,” starring Hugh Dancy for NBC; and the untitled Karen Usher project for Fox.

SAG still appears to be paying the price for its aggressive stance during 2008 and 2009, when AFTRA split off from joint negotiations and SAG insisted on a better deal than the other Hollywood unions. That led to AFTRA concluding a deal a year before SAG in July 2008 — despite SAG’s fervent opposition to ratification on the grounds that the AFTRA deal fell short in new-media compensation.

Studios and producers are able to choose between SAG and AFTRA jurisdiction now that most pilots are shot via high-definition video. SAG has exclusive jurisdiction over projects shot in film — but that medium is no longer common in TV production.

SAG dominated pilot jurisdiction until 2009.

Advocates of a SAG-AFTRA merger contend that the issue of split jurisdiction’s a potential headache for working members amid tightened qualifications for the joint industry-union health and pension plans. SAG earnings aren’t counted toward the AFTRA plans and vice-versa.

Due to the drop in TV earnings, SAG health and pension plans tightened eligibility requirements and benefits last year. SAG had disclosed its reported TV earnings dropped 8.2% last year to $564.8 million — 24% below 2007 levels — while overall earnings rose 3.9% last year to $1.99 billion.

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