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Argentine TV hit by drama dispute

Pay, working hours at center of labor dispute

BUENOS AIRES — A dispute over pay and working hours kept locally made fiction off Argentina’s commercial TV channels on Monday and will do so on Tuesday as a conflict between actors and independent producers stymies production.

This is the first time a labor conflict has hit local schedules, and it is threatening to leave viewers without the final episodes of popular series and could delay projects for 2008.

The return to the air of series including teen telenovela “Patito feo” (Ugly Duckling) on Artear-Canal 13 depends on talks this week between the Argentine Assn. of Actors (AAA) and the Argentine Chamber of Independent Television Producers (Capit).

AAA took its demands to the Labor Ministry on Friday after producers closed down sets, a move actors said was aimed at coercing them to drop their demands.

They want to cut working hours to 8.45 per day from 11, a request they say is reasonable given that it is more than the 6.25 hours they are required to work as part of a 1975 collective work agreement.

Capit and the Assn. of Argentine Broadcasters (ATA) have said the demands for higher wages are excessive at 130% for actors under contract and 335% for extras. Producers have offered 40% increases, which they say are in line with costs and the fees of $8,000-$40,000 per episode that networks pay for miniseries, telenovelas and other fiction series.

Local fare dominates around 75% of the schedule in Argentina, with most fiction coming from indie producers such as Cris Morena Group, Dori Media Group, Endemol, Ideas del Sur and Pol-ka. Telefe is the only broadcaster with an inhouse production outfit, but it often works with indies.

Without weekly revenge thriller “El hombre que volvio de la muerte” (The Man Who Came Back From the Dead” on Artear and the repeat of revenge telenovela “Montecristo” on Telefe, broadcasters are extending newscasts and variety shows.

The conflict could be costly for broadcasters. Fiction series carry some of the highest advertising rates on TV.

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