Actors Reach Tentative Deal With Studios

LOS ANGELES — The Screen Actors Guild and the Hollywood studios said Friday they have reached a tentative deal on movie and prime-time TV show productions. The previous contract had expired last June.

The announcement came a day before the Guild's board was scheduled to meet and a year after the two sides began talks.

The Guild said its leaders would recommend approval by the board and ratification by its members.

Both sides said the details of the deal will not be disclosed before the Guild's board reviews it over the weekend.

On many counts, many people who follow the industry say the Guild is likely worse off than where it began.

Fierce infighting and a stalemate with studios over compensation for material that appears on the Internet helped push talks way past the June 30, 2008, expiration date.

Since then, the U.S. economy went into a nosedive, weakening actors' resolve for a strike and hardening the studios' unwillingness to bargain as DVD sales also fell apart.

Work for actors has stagnated as movie production slowed, reality TV show production grew and network programmers made moves to replace scripted dramas with talk shows.

On top of that, more than 90 percent of pilots for scripted shows in the coming fall TV season have gone to SAG's more acquiescent cousin, the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists, a reversal of past trends.

AFTRA, with 70,000 members compared with SAG's 120,000, ratified its own prime-time TV deal with the studios last July after it broke off joint talks with SAG for the first time in nearly 30 years.

SAG maintains a monopoly on union work for major motion pictures in the United States.

By the studios' measure, SAG actors have lost nearly $70 million in wage increases they would have earned if they had accepted a 3.5 percent pay hike included in the studios' final offer.

"Their endless stalemate really amounted to them pouring sugar in their own gas tank," said Jonathan Handel, an entertainment lawyer who has followed the talks closely. "The SAG hard-liners have inflicted serious damage on their own union."

Because of the long delay in reaching a deal, the expiration date of a new contract also became a bargaining issue. It is unclear when the proposed agreement now ends.

A three-year deal would have left SAG's contract expiring in 2012, a year behind the writers, directors and AFTRA, severely reducing its leverage with the studios and making a joint strike near impossible.

For the last several weeks, David White, SAG's interim executive director, has been holding back-channel discussions with The Walt Disney Co. Chief Executive Bob Iger, as well as News Corp. President Peter Chernin to move the expiration date up. But the Guild was asked to give up something to have its expiration date coincide with the others.

White is a replacement for Doug Allen, a former NFL linebacker and NFL Players Association assistant executive director who was SAG's executive director until he was ousted in January after a long, internal battle.

Copyright AP - Associated Press
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