In an unusually strong action by the Screen Actors Guild, the union has declared television producer Saban Entertainment "unfair to performers," and charged the company with the "economic exploitation of children." In a letter sent to SAG members this week, the guild ordered its members not to work for any of the company's shows until it signs an overall agreement with the union.
Saban, which last year entered a joint venture with Fox Kids television and its parent, News Corp., produces such children's television shows as "Mighty Morphin Power Rangers," "The All New Captain Kangaroo" and the animated "X-Men."
Saban responded with a statement calling SAG's charges "categorically untrue." Saban President Mel Woods said the company has to make shows nonunion because of "the economics of the kids' TV business."
Saban is not unique in producing nonunion shows. Numerous other television and movie producers do the same, looking to save money and avoid SAG restrictions. SAG has an ongoing, general ban on members working for nonunion productions, though the guild does allow those who plead hardship to become affiliate members. This allows actors to receive limited benefits while working on nonunion shows.
Still, in an industry in which most people are out of work at any given time, many actors work for Saban and other nonunion producers under different names, and SAG is not generally aggressive in pursuing these cases. But in Saban Chairman Haim Saban's case, SAG President Richard Masur said the guild felt he could no longer claim a financial need to remain nonunion.
Saban spokesman Barry Stagg said production on all Saban shows was continuing normally; he said there has been no communication between Saban and SAG since June 1997, when negotiations broke down over terms. News Corp. is relying on Saban's programming not only for Fox Kids, but for its recently purchased Family Channel.
Saban is one of the only big producers of live-action kids shows in the United States.
One SAG member who has worked on nonunion shows for Saban worried that Saban may respond by sending more work on its shows to Canada.