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NEWS ANALYSIS

Larger Issues Remain as Actors Celebrate

October 24, 2000|JAMES BATES and ELIZABETH JENSEN | TIMES STAFF WRITERS

NEW YORK — Jubilant actors erupted into frequent applause at a jammed union meeting Monday, even though a settlement of their six-month-long strike against the advertising industry failed to resolve key issues vexing Hollywood's labor relations.

Richard Dreyfuss, one of the most active stars in the strike, said, "My head hurts from bumping on the ceiling." Despite reports of divisions and lack of unity within the actors' unions, he said, "At the end of the day, we held together and won."

Round-the-clock negotiations produced agreement on a new three-year contract. However, neither negotiators for the Screen Actors Guild and the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists nor those for the advertising industry could realistically declare victory.

Both sides punted over the larger issue that made the strike so difficult to settle--establishing a new methodology to pay actors that takes into account the explosive growth of cable television and the increasing fragmentation of the network TV audience.

SAG President William Daniels noted that no one really wins with a strike. "The time, money, heartache, stress--that'll never be forgotten."

Said industry negotiator Ira Shepard: "It just came to a point where there was a desire to reach a fair agreement on both sides."

SAG chief negotiator John McGuire called it a "fair, equitable contract," and noted, along with AFTRA chief negotiator Mathis Dunn, that actors must now work on rebuilding a relationship with the ad industry.

"We will immediately begin to reach out and try to build bridges, to reconstruct them," Dunn said.

Still, the new pact does little to ease the brittle labor relations now consuming Hollywood. The stage remains set for a devastating halt to production next year when actors and writers bargain separately with movie studios, TV networks and producers.

The actors' settlement with the advertising industry announced Sunday buys only the ad industry three years of labor peace.

Actors get a sizable pay raise to end a strike that union officials have estimated cost actors as much as $2 million a day in lost wages. Not only do actors receive an increase in the flat fee they get for cable ads, the industry also agreed that ads made exclusively for the Internet will include union actors.

"Certainly, we have to eventually come up with something in which everyone is going to be able to be treated equitably, because you're going to still have those issues around," said Todd Amorde, SAG strike chairman.

At the heart of the continuing conflict within the entertainment industry is the widespread belief among actors, writers and directors that they aren't sharing in the lucrative profits resulting from the 25-year boom in cable and foreign TV markets, and that they risk a another lost opportunity in the developing Internet.

Actors wanted to be paid each time commercials run on cable, as they are now for network ads.

For their part, industry representatives believed that shrinking network audiences meant they are overpaying for commercial talent in ads running on the major broadcast networks. The industry wanted to pay a flat fee to actors in network ads, as they do now for actors in cable ads.

On Monday, Hollywood executives and union leaders grasped for any signs of what the settlement means for next year's crucial negotiations, debating whether actors will feel empowered enough to stomach another costly strike over these still outstanding issues.

That question is hard to answer because the pool of actors affected by the TV and film strike is different from the group of actors affected by the commercial negotiations. In addition, some unique issues are being bargained, including whether Fox should be treated as a network on par with CBS, NBC and ABC, which it hasn't been in the past.

SAG's direction in upcoming negotiations will be become clearer next week when election results are tallied for 25 open seats its 105-seat board. All told, a staggering 74 actors are running for those volunteer offices. Last November, SAG members elected a group of hard-liners who promised tougher negotiations.

On Monday, both actors and producers downplayed any talk of a strike, seeking to ease fears of a repeat next year.

"We know that if we ever need to strike, our members are more than capable of striking and striking hard. But nobody wants another strike," said David Joliffe, a SAG strike leader.

Union leaders declared at least a partial victory mainly because members held fast during the strike and fought off demands that they give up residuals that they receive for network ads. Union leaders attributed the settlement to pressure brought on major advertiser Procter & Gamble through a boycott of its Tide detergent, Crest toothpaste and Ivory soap. They said they believe negotiators were under pressure from CEOs at major companies.

But industry negotiator Shepard denied that advertisers caved in to pressure, or that pressure on any one company made the difference.

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