Saban, SAG make nice for the kids

Agreement ends tensions between union and producer

A furious labor dispute between the Screen Actors Guild and “Mighty Morphin Power Rangers” producer Saban Entertainment evaporated Wednesday when Saban agreed to put all its productions under the guild’s contracts for performers.

The agreement, reached after three days of talks, was preceded by an apology from SAG president Richard Masur to the company’s founder and CEO Haim Saban, “for any unintentional remarks regarding his personal character.”

The apology, which came in a face-to-face meeting Monday, stemmed among other things from Masur’s contention that Saban had “built his fortune through the economic exploitation of children.”

SAG officials last week ordered guild members not to work for Saban productions because of its “failure to meet industry standards” for working actors, including payment of residuals.

The union’s wrath was aimed at Saban himself, who was accused of making “hundreds of millions of dollars marketing his programs and ancillary merchandise to children worldwide, while exploiting the talent, material resources (and) the hopes and dreams of child actors and their parents.”

SAG evidently got Saban’s attention. The company, the country’s second-largest purveyor of children’s shows, including “Masked Rider” and “Ninja Turtles: The Next Mutation,” agreed to consolidate all its productions under one umbrella deal based on SAG’s so-called basic agreements.

In addition, Saban consented to begin negotiating next week with union officials on a contract specifically for children’s live-action programming produced for syndication, basic cable or network non-primetime telecasts.

“Haim Saban’s personal involvement, which was missing in our previous discussions with Saban Entertainment, has enabled us to move toward an acceptable agreement with his company,” Masur said in a statement Wednesday. “His leadership, concern and willingness to consider the needs of young actors have been crucial elements in reaching this agreement.”

The union had not been seeking an overall contract with Saban. Until this week, its position had been that it would like to see wages, benefits, residuals and working conditions for all Saban-controlled productions raised to industrywide standards.

Given the vitriol exchanged, the agreement was fast in coming.

Saban’s response to SAG’s initial statement was to label it “scurrilous” and “reprehensible.” A Saban vice president wrote to SAG saying its allegations “serve no purpose other than to mislead our industry and the public.”

Saban founded his company almost two decades ago with the rights to low-budget Japanese cartoons. It claims to have generated almost 20,000 cast and crew jobs in the past five years alone, including nearly 1,500 jobs for actors.

Until this week, only three Saban entities — Sandscape, Interprod and Melville Prods. — were signatories to SAG contracts.

In September 1996, Saban merged with Fox Children’s Network to form Fox Kids Worldwide, which includes the Family Channel.