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Celebrities Turn to Congress for Help in Resolving Strike

Labor: The artists say they were assured political suasion would be used to help make their case.

October 13, 2000|FAYE FIORE | TIMES STAFF WRITER

WASHINGTON — Imploring Congress to help on one front and resisting its intervention on another, Hollywood spent Thursday asking lawmakers to weigh in on a record-long actors strike and butt out on the subject of entertainment violence.

Celebrities led by actress Susan Sarandon asked members of Congress to press the advertising industry to end a crippling five-month strike, which is dragging on primarily over payment for commercials on cable television and the Internet.

The artists were not seeking legislation, rather a well-placed word from lawmakers who have been known to move mountains with a phone call.

Sarandon said the celebrities came away with assurances that political suasion would be used to help make the artists' case, although neither the talent nor the politicians would say precisely what that meant.

"You know they work in strange and mysterious ways," Sarandon quipped with a satisfied smile after emerging from an hourlong meeting with Sen. Orrin G. Hatch, (R-Utah), the powerful chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee and an amateur songwriter in his spare time. "He was very sympathetic. He said he would help us in whatever way he can. . . . It's a secret."

Negotiations broke down late last month when the advertising industry and two unions--the Screen Actors Guild and the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists--deadlocked on two points: how much actors should be paid for ads that run on cable TV and whether future labor contracts should include commercials made for the Internet. Talks are set to resume Thursday.

While the strike involves only commercial actors, its outcome could affect upcoming negotiations for television and theatrical work. Actors believe they failed to foresee the lucrative potential of cable TV when it emerged years ago and do not want to be equally shortsighted when the Internet takes its place as another major distributor of their work.

Meanwhile, others in the industry spent Thursday fighting legislation that would allow the music, film and video game industries to discuss marketing restrictions on violent entertainment without violating antitrust laws.

House and Senate bills--one sponsored by Hatch--would ostensibly enable the industry to come up with a universal ratings code for music, movies and video games. But few in the industry believe a universal code is necessary and regard the legislation as a veiled attempt to coerce Hollywood into action it does not wish to take.

The bills were introduced after last month's Federal Trade Commission report found that Hollywood intentionally markets adult-rated material to children, even products rated inappropriate for those younger than 17.

"A number of people, including me, believe such a new design is unworkable," said Jack Valenti, chairman of the Motion Picture Assn. of America. He noted that the industry managed to come up with a 12-point plan for curbing the marketing of violent entertainment to children after the FTC report was released, and needed no antitrust legislation to do it.

Neither antitrust bill has yet made it to the floor of the House or Senate. And while some lawmakers were working to attach the language to last-minute spending bills before Congress adjourns this month, their prospects for success were uncertain.

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