If the Writers Guild of America strike takes place as expected Tuesday and proves a lengthy one, it may pose a delicate situation for two Hollywood actors on a pair of ABC shows--Ed Asner and Frank Maxwell. Each is president of a major talent union.
Asner, star of "Off the Rack," a new situation comedy scheduled to premiere March 15, is the outspoken president of the Screen Actors Guild. Maxwell, a regular on "General Hospital," heads the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists.
According to SAG and AFTRA, each group has a "no-strike" clause in its existing contract, which means neither can order its members to honor WGA picket lines.
If there's a strike, Writers Guild officials say, members of SAG and AFTRA may continue working on TV programs--but only on shows whose scripts were completed before midnight last Thursday, when the guild's old contract with the TV and film industry expired.
Asner will have no problem this week. The script for the fourth episode of "Rack" is finished, he is scheduled to do the show on Tuesday, and picket lines aren't expected to go up until Thursday.
If there is a strike and it goes beyond a week, he also would be free to cross picket lines to tape the next episode a week later. According to a spokesman for the show, that episode's script also was finished before the WGA deadline.
But would the feisty SAG president, whose union says it has 50,000 members, honor the writers' picket line then anyway?
"It all depends," he said in a brief interview Friday. "I have to be very sure I have their (the WGA) blessings to cross any picket line."
Maxwell, whose union says it has 65,000 members, doesn't face that dilemma for the time being. Dick Moore, an AFTRA spokesman in New York, says Maxwell isn't working on "General Hospital" in Hollywood right now. He's working on union business in New York.
(He's meeting, Moore said, with SAG and AFTRA officials on contract talks with major TV and radio commercial producers. If those talks prove fruitless, Maxwell and the other union officials have the authority to call a strike.)
Although a majority of Writers Guild of America members in Los Angeles voted over the weekend to go on strike, their New York counterparts will not be voting until tonight at 7, EST. However, guild officials here expect them also to reject the contract and vote for a strike.
WGA officials say that the New York chapter has an estimated 2,000 members eligible to vote, while the Los Angeles branch has 5,100. In the Los Angeles voting, nearly 72% of 2,130 votes cast rejected the contract offer made by the networks and TV and motion picture producers. On a second vote on whether to go on strike, 61% of 2,058 cast votes to back a walkout.
The strike is scheduled to begin at 12:01 a.m., PST, Tuesday, if the New York vote goes as expected, guild officials said.