Why These Could Be The Last SAG Awards

They’re still called the SAG Awards. But the upcoming 17th Annual Screen Actors Guild show on January 30th could just as easily be called the AFTRA Awards in terms of television. That’s because an increasing number of categories, especially among comedy series, are dominated by AFTRA shows. On December 16th when the SAG Awards nominations were announced, AFTRA put out a congratulatory note listing all nominees from AFTRA shows. And while SAG still represents movies and such TV heavy hitters as Mad Men, Dexter, Breaking Bad, 30 Rock, Glee, The Office, and The Big Bang Theory as well as hot awards prospects like Boardwalk Empire and The Walking Dead, AFTRA now boasts top awards TV contenders such as Modern Family, The Good Wife, Curb Your Enthusiasm, and Nurse Jackie as well as Parks & Recreation and Community.

I’m now hearing that this could be the last SAG Awards. If even the most optimistic merger scenarios come true, then by the end of 2011 and just in time for the 18th SAG Awards, Hollywood may have a single actors union that would replace SAG and AFTRA. And therefore a newly conceived awards show for the combined actors’ union. The awards telecast would reflects what’s been happening union-wise on the TV side over the past couple of years. Where once TV was populated by virtually 100% SAG-designated series, the pendulum has swung to AFTRA in primetime since the writers strike.

Of the 38 new broadcast scripted series this season, only one (Fox’s comedy Running Wilde) chose to go with SAG in what became a watershed moment in the primetime dynamic between AFTRA and SAG. For the first time, AFTRA is representing more scripted series on the broadcast networks this season than long-time dominant player SAG. And it’s important to note the SAG affiliation for the majority of new series repped by the union was not by choice but automatic because they were based on existing properties or spinoffs of existing SAG-represented series.

Right now, a small group of SAG stalwarts who oppose a merger with AFTRA are urging guild voters not to reward AFTRA shows with SAG wards. But actors from AFTRA-covered series have always been eligible for SAG Awards alongside those from shows under SAG contracts. In fact, beyond an occasional phone call to AFTRA to confirm coverage for a show during the eligibility-establishing period, the series’ union affiliation plays no role in the nominee- and winner-selection process. “We honor performances, not programs,” said SAG Awards spokeswoman Rosalind Jarrett.

Underscoring that, SAG doesn’t keep record of union affiliation for the SAG Award nominees and winners. Those nominees and winners are determined by SAG’s active members. Some 44,000 of the 125,000 SAG members have dual SAG-AFTRA membership, including the vast majority of primetime series actors. But theoretically, AFTRA-represented actors on AFTRA-covered shows wouldn’t be able vote for their SAG Award-eligible fellow cast members — thus undermining the voted-by-peers principle of the awards. This would all become irrelevant if SAG and AFTRA’s ongoing merger efforts succeed. The current listening tour by the presidents of SAG and AFTRA who are meeting with groups of members to get their take on a combined union is expected to kick into high gear with meetings in Hollywood in early January, during the weeks leading to the 17th — and potentially last — SAG Awards.

At last January’s SAG Awards, Julianna Margulies won the best drama series trophy for CBS’ The Good Wife, marking the first time in recent history that a SAG award had gone to an actor on an AFTRA-represented series.

For this year’s SAG Awards, the number of AFTRA nominees went up in the individual comedy series categories, including a dominating performance in the best comedy actress field where 3 out of 5 nominees hail from AFTRA shows: reigning Emmy winner Edie Falco (Nurse Jackie), Sofia Vergara (Modern Family), and Betty White (Hot In Cleveland). The rest of the actors from AFTRA-represented shows who received SAG nominations were Ty Burrell and Ed O’Neill (Modern Family) for comedy actor, and Julianna Margulies (The Good Wife) and Glenn Close (Damages) for best drama actress, as well as the casts of The Good Wife, Modern Family, and Hot In Cleveland which was one of only two new series to crack the SAG nominations this year along with SAG-represented HBO drama Boardwalk Empire, which also landed 2 noms.

  1. Can someone please tell me how “Nurse Jackie” was even nominated for “Best Comedy”?

    I’m not knocking the show, but how can anyone watch the series and then say, “Wow, that show was the funniest show out of all the shows on television”?

    1. Why don’t watch the show before you make such a stupid comment regarding it.

      This isn’t the first year the show or Edie has been nominated for it.

    2. Nurse Jackie deals with mature, dramatic subject matter, but it’s tone is dark comedy. And if you watch it’s cast, with the notable exceptions of Edie Falco, Dominic Fumosa and possibly Paul Schulze, everyone is playing for laughs.

      It’s not a sitcom, but it’s a dark comedy, pure and simple.

  2. “If even the most optimistic merger scenarios come true, then by the end of 2011 and just in time for the 18th SAG Awards, Hollywood may have a single actors union that would replace SAG and AFTRA.”

    ‘Optimistic’ in terms of a speedy timetable, or in terms of the terms/conditions of a merger?” Perhaps I’m reading it wrong, but it seems more accurate to say “If even the LEAST optimistic merger scenarios come true…” I’m not sure I am reading it wrong, though, judging from the other typos (“SAG wards,” “shows wouldn’t be able vote”) in this apparently unedited story.

  3. Merger will not happen in 2011, no matter what Howard says. It takes two to tango and AFTRA’s in no hurry. Why should they be? They dominate television. They’ve won. But the SAG awards are somewhat based in falsehood regardless of the prominent position of AFTRA. Non American/ non union films are honored along with union films which I never really understood. Why continue to call it the SAG Awards when non SAG films/non SAG actors (some non union) can be nominated. It’s all a crock. TNT/TBS doesn’t care what the show is called as long as they can be guaranteed the appearances of the likes of Clooney, Hanks, Angelina and others. The viewers certainly don’t care what it’s called.

    So, I wouldn’t be holding my breath about this merger thing. No matter how many meetings are held. Members of both unions are so stupid about the whole thing and both unions have make public comments that are less than honest or reliable. They’ll say anything to sell this crap. In the meantime, I’d like you to keep a track of how many new television shows chose SAG coverage because that’s why SAG told me in order to get me to sign up this crappy contract. If we passed this deal, more work would come back to SAG. That’s what they promised back in 2009 but your stats pretty much punch a big ole hole in that theory. What will happen before any official merger will be the change of the name of the awards show and the voting process. By 2011/2012 it’ll be changed to the AFTRA/SAG Awards. Especially when the majority of the tv awards are handed to AFTRA shows this year. Which will really cause concern because the SAG Foundation makes millions off of the show. But if more AFTRA shows are winning, is it really kosher for the SAG Foundation to be making all of the money? Why isn’t AFTRA getting a share from the award show? That’ll have to change sooner than merger can take place.

  4. “Nurse jackie” is emblematic of Steve Allen’s dictum: ‘The dumbing down of America…’
    The Merger of SAG and AFTRA is emblematic of the way the big Unions have been taken over by a small band of professional union organizers who take their Orders from the powerful who run this town and would like to pay actors NOTHING.
    The problem is: Today’s younger actors DO NOT understand ‘how’ hard it was for the preceding generation to wrangle Residuals from the AMPTP… and that for the WGA & the DGA, as well.
    Kidz figger that ‘What the Hell… I’ll get a series and become a kadzillionaire and retire to the world of Undertaking…’ or whatever their secondary dream in life is. The unfortunate part of this little scenario is VERY FEW of the talented EVER make enough money in this business to retire…. End of Story.
    Goodbye SAG & Goodbye AFTRA — You are both polluted with the likes of the Powerful and DO NOT stand for the regular actors anymore anyway….
    As for the SAG Awards — Who Cares!

  5. Are AFTRA actors paid on the same scale as SAG actors? Does a production benefit financially by being an AFTRA production rather than a SAG production? Just curious.

    1. Many actors refer to AFTRA as the “scumbag union”. AFTRA is in the middle of a jurisdictional takeover as the bargaining representative for TV actors. The reason AFTRA is doing this is to fatten the pension for the DJs a News reporters, who ironically work non-union while holding AFTRA cards. Actors are not represented by AFTRA by choice. Actors have a union, SAG.

      AFTRA started the takeover by giving away residuals in basic cable. This signaled the conglomerates that AFTRA was the union that would “play ball”. The next area AFTRA targeted was broadcast network dramas. They signed contracts which were supposed to have equal terms but often had lesser terms in overtime. Also AFTRA unlike SAG, would routinely fail to follow up on actors grievances and ignore contract violations. Now even though SAG now pays 3% less, the studios will go with AFTRA contracts. Actors still prefer SAG over AFTRA.

      What really caused the studios to go with AFTRA was the giving back of long standing and hard fought contract terms by AFTRA in 2008. It is significant that the majority of the AFTRA officers proposing a “new union” are not actors.

  6. The article doesn’t make clear the sad fact that AFTRA contracts are poorer contracts for actors in every way: lower pay, poorer health benefits, etc. Producers chose to switch allegiances to save themselves $, at a time when unions were in disarray, reeling from a strike, with little power to resist. AFTRA was/is a union created to represent newscasters and radio artists, so their jurisdiction over scripted television was for years an anomaly, and remains an aberration. I did episodes of two AFTRA tv shows PRIOR to the writers’ strike, PRIOR to the union’s dominance in the arena, and everyone on the crew and in the business knew the producers were using AFTRA contracts simply to save tremendous amounts of money, which would land in their own pockets instead of cast and crew.

    All that said (and to maintain my status as the whiniest poster of the day) I find the SAG awards to be the most disappointing nominations each year, by far. I always hope/expect actors to choose more exceptional fare than the other award entities, and am always startled when they flock to reward the same mainstream, unwatchable tripe.

    And now I’ll go kick some puppies (not really)…….

    1. sadly, Ethan, you’re right on all counts and I agree w/you!! here’s hoping a merger comes sooner rather than later!! but I’m not holding my breath!! the inter fighting benefits producers in a big way n’ they’re not going to let go of that soon!!

      1. I’m glad to have your agreement, but I have no confidence that merging with the union that undersells, under-represents, undercuts, and gives back in all agreements is the solution to anything.

    1. Then actors must decertify AFTRA as a bargaining agent for all “Screen” acting(any acting in front of a camera, including soaps). “Decertification” is where actors petition the National Labor Relations Board, for a representation vote. One third of the actors in AFTRA (ten to fifteen thousand AFTRA actor members)need to sign petitions, then the NLRB will schedule a vote to decertify AFTRA.

      If SAG and AFTRA merge, the “new union” will be worse than AFTRA and AFTRA sucks. Actors have the power, they just need to use it through the decertification process not the merger process. The best option is to get rid of AFTRA…. FOREVER. Drive a stake through the black corrupt heart of AFTRA!

  7. So if anyone is playing the “Predict the SAG winners” game, does this mean we should pay attention to what guild represents which show when making our predictions? is this why Glee could win an award over a more-deserving Modern Family, because Glee is SAG and Modern Family is AFTRA?

  8. I think the general consensus is that the SAG Awards are voted on by SAG Members, not for SAG-only productions. Outstanding acting work (in any production) voted on by the outstanding actors’ union.

    That said, for the TV viewing audience, AFTRA is a “…who? …what?”. At least most of the TV audience knows who/what SAG is (well, was). AFTRA has absolutely no clout or cred in that regard. And rightly so.

  9. Cheer up. If the new union is called SAG-AFTRA you can still have your precious SAG Awards, can’t you?

  10. Show biz unions are zombies. They’re completely dead, they just happen to keep walking around. Neither union represent the working class actor (who’s an endangered species), just the golden Guild (actors who make so much money union participation is superfluous). Hollywood producers hire more and more foreign actors every year, or right-to-work actors domestically. The pensions of most unions are underfunded. Zombies . . . .

  11. Cheer up. If the new union is called SAG-AFTRA you can still have your precious SAG Awards, can’t you?

    Such condescending snark, how sad.

  12. SAG should be for ACTORS-you know, playing a “role”, pretending to be someone else. AFTRA should be for playing YOURSELF, ie newscasters, hosts, reality, etc. OR, just put the whole damn thing together. Whatever. Let’s just not let ’em bust our unions.

    And speaking of that, why does SAG’s Actors Access include so many non-union notices? Isn’t working SAG-only gigs RULE ONE?

  13. Ugh… AFTRA can suck a fat one. The idea of SAG merging with it makes me feel dirty. Real actors don’t want to be lumped in with the idiots who host E! News and annoying morning radio DJs. It’s like telling the residents of Beverly Hills that The Valley is expanding and they’ll now be considered part of it.

  14. F AFTRAsh. !@$@#$#@34!

    As for the awards, I’ll go grab the smallest thimble I can to catch all the tears of anybody who gives a rat butt about them.

  15. -As a member of SAG, AFTRA & AEA (Actor Unions) . . . Personally, I’d be very pleased if members of other Unions were NOT considered for SAG AWARDS — for their work on AFTRA jobs!!!

    AFTRA has their own Award Ceremony; AEA has their own TONY Awards — WHY ON EARTH would these other Unions be considered for a SAG Award??? Last year’s show was particularly upsetting, too, in that, throughout the show — they made it a point to have various Actors talk about what it was like when they got their SAG Card (including SAG’s President!). And then, just look at ALL of the AFTRA Shows & Actors nominated in the television categories — for a SAG Award (This year too)!!!

  16. Unfortunate and puzzling why all the “winners” aren’t more involved in the strength and well being of our unions, SAG or AFTRA. And clearly, strength can’t come unless it comes from the “powerful” within said unions who don’t step up for their fellow actors. It’s an “I got mine” mentality, losers and winners and the “teams” created to fuel the ‘star’, couldn’t care less about anyone else but them and their #1 golden goose…hey there’s an idea….THE GOLDEN GOOSE award. Given to the ‘STAR’ who gives a little something back to his supporting actors who have paved the way or ‘made it possible’ for their goose to fly. THE GOLDEN GOOSE. The actor/humanitarian award. Actors supporting actors..no matter the color of their goose.

    1. I completely agree, Bill. The four “I got mine, screw you” stars that stand out for me are Tom Hanks, Sally Field, Danny DeVito and Rhea Perlman – all of whom made their bones as TV actors (SAG TV shows, btw) and were allowed, by raking in tons of residual cash, to MAKE A LIVING AS AN ACTOR in their early days. And now they sit on their millions and tell the rest of us to “sign the contract”, which canceled residuals for hundreds of actors from the early ’70s; and which limits residuals (to almost nothing) for actors now.

      And the membership believed them, and voted with stars in their eyes – “Tom Hanks, movie star, told me to vote ‘yes'”. And what is now happening as a result of that current ratified contract? Uh, not a damn thing except management (the AMPTP and indie producers, which Mr. Hanks is) continues to screw actors out of our fairly-earned profit sharing income.

      Thank you, Mr. Tom Hanks! Thank you, Ms. Sally Field! Thank all of you producers who posed as SAG actors to get a better producer deal for yourselves! The union that helped you get to the top is now screwed! (I doubt Pete Scolari is sending Hanks any Holiday cards this season…)

  17. Ever since the breakup of the HOLLYWOOD studio system, actors as with other guilds and crafts have gone downhill. That’s a fact that no one can deny! Today’s actors like anyone else, all figure they’re hired because they’re the best -and if they’ve got a good agent who needs a union. They don’t respect or even care, that all the gains and rights they have now, had to be fought for and suffered for.

    In HOLLYWOOD -it’s always divide and conquer time. Many actors have become as shallow and superficial as the parts they play.
    Sally Field is no NORMA RAE thats for sure!

  18. When the WGA went on strike, and then SAG threatened a strike, it caused serious financial havoc in our industry. Uncertainty in any industry is never good and these two guilds created that in abundance. The WGA and SAG’s militance created an opportunity for AFTRA and the producers. The only people to blame are the former SAG National Executive Director Doug Allen, former SAG President Alan Rosenberg and SAG and WGA militant members.

  19. The majority SAG members who nomenate and vote for SAG awards are not Screen Actors.They are extras.Actors nomenated for an Oscar are nomenated by Actors.Actors who have been carefully selected for membership into the AMPAS.They in turn vote in all categories.

    1. As a 42 year member of SAG as a working actor and a 35 year member of AMPAS in the performers catagory my facts are not wrong.Sorry if you find education boreing.

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