UPDATE: Warner Bros TV issued a statement similar to 20th TV’s later today: “In response to the uncertainties created by a potential SAG strike, WBTV is also considering all of its options, including those involving digital productions done under AFTRA agreements.” Warner Bros’ Barry Meyer is known to be one of the worst hardliners and biggest bastards among the Hollywood CEOs when it comes to dealing with the less compliant guilds, and is leading the way for using New Media as backdoor pilots. (As TheWb.com’s sales pitch says, “The next great network will not be televised.” Or unionized, the way things are going…).
Besides Warner Bros and 20th TV, I hear Disney also has been trying to pit SAG against AFTRA. Starting as far back as August, I received word that Disney was “pressuring” Shaftesbury Films, their Canadian production services provider on a 2009 show Aaron Stone, “to sign a deal with AFTRA to cover the use of American stars and guests on the new series so it could continue production should there be a SAG strike,” an insider emailed me. “Shaftesbury initially refused because they’re not contracting the artists. That happens through Disney. But Disney is insisting they do this to prevent the appearance that Disney is circumventing SAG. It would seem to indicate at least one of the major studios is not bargaining in good faith with SAG.”
Which makes sense since Meyer, along with News Corp’s Peter Chernin and Disney’s Bob Iger, have been orchestrating the current SAG negotiations stalement, with the other studio and network moguls blindly following their lead. This happened during the WGA negotiations and subsequent strike, and this is happening again with the big actors union. Now the moguls are seeking to exploit the still fresh wounds between SAG and AFTRA. Which may look like a shrewd move now but may be short-sighted after SAG actors see what they don’t get from AFTRA.
It’s clear that my exclusive news earlier today about Twentieth Century Television intention to move its shows from SAG to AFTRA has caused a shitstorm with those two actor unions. And I have to ask: Is Peter Chernin’s Fox trying to start another SAG vs AFTRA war? Divide and conquer is a familiar Big Media strategy when it comes to the Hollywood guilds, after all. To remind you, this morning I received a tip to check out the rumor that Fox Studios television shows will be going all video/all AFTRA in 2009, that older film shows will be shot on video, and that SAG actors will be renegotiated with AFTRA contracts. Here is the response I received from Twentieth Century Television: “With all the uncertainty surrounding the stalled negotiations with SAG, TCFTV is indeed considering shooting its spring pilots under the AFTRA agreement. As for shows already in production, we are exploring every option including transitioning shows from SAG to AFTRA.”
Now I have first SAG’s response, and then AFTRA’s, followed by the AMPTP’s:
“We should not be surprised by the timing of this new AMPTP attack — as usual, they are attempting to use scare tactics to influence the member vote in the upcoming strike authorization referendum. Any effort by Twentieth Century Television to shift existing programs from SAG to AFTRA would violate federal law and AFL-CIO rules, and the Screen Actors Guild will take any and all necessary and appropriate action to insure the right of its members to be represented by the Guild.”
And AFTRA’s statement:
Regarding media inquiries about press reports about an assertion that Fox is transitioning shows from SAG to AFTRA, AFTRA is setting the record straight by offering the following
1) Fox has been a long term AFTRA signatory, historically producing both dramatic and non-dramatic programming under AFTRA’s TV Contract for decades. For example, Married With Children, the program which historians now describe as the show that built the Fox Network, was produced under the AFTRA TV Code. There are countless other scripted programs from Arrested Development to The Bernie Mac Show to Roc and others produced under AFTRA contracts during Fox’s history. As such, the fact that Fox is producing programs under AFTRA contracts is not unusual; indeed, it is consistent with the long history of this Company’s signatory relationship with AFTRA and consistent with the historic ebb and flow of coverage between the two unions as technology has shifted over time.
2) It is more expensive for Fox to produce scripted programming under the AFTRA TV Contract. Prior to July 1, 2008, the rates terms and conditions of the AFTRA TV Contract for Prime Time scripted programs were identical in every way to the SAG TV Contract. As of July 1, 2008, the AFTRA rates have been increased as a result of the membership’s ratification of the new Prime Time “Exhibit A” terms. The inference that Fox is somehow saving money by producing under AFTRA’s Prime Time Contract is incorrect.
And, finally, 3) AFTRA has been absolutely clear and explicit, long before the question of a potential strike by our sister union was contemplated, that a program already established under one union cannot be “converted” or “transferred” to another union. AFTRA is a chartered union of the AFL-CIO, and a member of the Associated Actors and Artistes of America (the Four A’s). As such, the rules and obligations of both the AFL-CIO and the Four A’s would prohibit such a “transfer.” In addition, even if there were no such restrictions under the rules of our parent organizations, it wouldn’t matter. Simply stated, AFTRA would never participate in such a practice. Fox Labor Relations is very well aware of this.
Finally, here’s the AMPTP statement on behalf of Big Media:
SAG’s overheated statement regarding the organization of pilots cannot obscure the fact that, in the midst of the greatest economic crisis of the past 80 years, SAG is persisting with a failed negotiating strategy that has already cost SAG members nearly $40 million and will cost them potentially hundreds of millions of dollars more during a strike.