Actors' Contracts Set to Expire

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When the clock strikes 12 Monday, the contracts between film and television studios and the two actors unions are set to expire. An immediate strike or lock-out is unlikely. But the 44,000 people who belong to AFTRA and SAG find themselves caught between the two. KPCC's Brian Watt explains.

Brian Watt: AFTRA's negotiators have already reached a deal with the studios, and they've sent that deal to members for a vote. SAG's team is still at the bargaining table, determined to do better. But SAG's Hollywood leaders are also urging members of both unions to vote against the AFTRA contract. Personal Manager Rick Siegel agrees with that.

Rick Siegel: AFTRA has to be told, "You can't sell us for less from today onwards. That you can't go into take our product, which is our members, and sell them for less money than they would get otherwise."

Watt: Siegel wrote a letter to his fellow managers that wound up on Nikki Finke's Deadline Hollywood Daily blog. In it, he explained how one of his clients, an actor who'd starred on the Disney Channel's "That's So Raven," saw his total income drop when he went to work on the sitcom's spin-off.

The actors on "That's so Raven" worked under a SAG contract, and earned residuals when the show went into reruns. But the spin-off, "Cory in the House," is an AFTRA contract. Siegel's client got a bump in pay per episode. But he's missing out on thousands, if not tens of thousands of dollars, in residuals.

That drama's playing out on cable television. Jon Taplin with USC's Annenberg School for Communication says the unions' turf war becomes even trickier on the Internet. He points to the news that Seth McFarlane, who created the Fox network's "The Family Guy," is creating an animated series for Google to syndicate on thousands of Web sites.

Jon Taplin: Are the voiceovers gonna be done under an AFTRA Contract, under a SAG Contract? I mean, you can see where this is gonna get more and more complicated.

Watt: Rick Siegel, the personal manager, says producers will simply choose the cheaper contract, and his clients will earn less. While Siegel supports SAG's leaders' efforts to get his clients more, he wishes they'd do one thing organized labor doesn't like to.

Siegel: Right now, say, you guarantee, we will not go on strike. SAG should go out and say, "We don't know what the level of deal we're going to get is, but we're not striking."

Watt: He acknowledges that could lose SAG some leverage at the table. But Siegel says it would help convince members of both unions that voting down the AFTRA contract won't automatically trigger a strike. Three-quarters of SAG's members would have to vote to authorize a walkout. During the weekend, SAG's President Alan Rosenberg said the Guild's taken no steps toward calling that vote.