Over the past fifteen years or so, a new type of labor force has exploded onto the scene. Traditional blue-collar unions--Teamsters, UAW, etc.--have made room for handmade, three-piece suit, designer unions. These guilds look out for the welfare and happiness of the truly oppressed: the affluent, multi-millionaire basketball and baseball players; the Armani-clad doctors and lawyers; and of course, Tom Cruise and Julia Roberts.
So exploited and subjugated are La-la-land's thespians that the members of the Screen Actors Guild and the American Federation of Television & Radio Artists, their clenched fists resting dramatically on overwrought brows, are threatening to strike.
Actually, much like the rest of the beastly work schedule in Hollywood, negotiations are resuming today following the third hiatus--read: vacation break--of the short talks, with just 17 days left before the current actors' contract expires. Yet optimism remains high in Tinseltown, based largely on the Writers' deal that recently passed approval by the WGA's membership, not that any news has been forthcoming from either side.
The snail's pace of the negotiations hasn't worried Jack Kyser, senior economist of the Los Angeles Economic Development Corp.
"Once the writers settled, the possibility of a SAG/AFTRA strike became a non-issue for many people outside the industry," Kyser told Variety.
The Los Angeles mayor's office, however, remains concerned, and is actively tracking the negotiations. Mayor Riordan, despite his term ending the same day the actors' contract expires, has reportedly made numerous calls to negotiators, to keep abreast of developments.
Riordan has been low key thus far in his stance with the ongoing actors' discussions, but was very proactive during the writers' talks, often upstaging the negotiations by holding press conferences urging a compromise by both sides to get a deal done.
But while Riordan has been kept in the know by Hollywood honchos, the actors and studios have said nary a word to the public, abiding by a mutually agreed upon, self-imposed code of silence.
In fact, SAG has now said that they will not reveal the terms of the deal--if and when a deal is finalized--to the public. They will probably divulge key factors, including the total magnitude of the deal, but have no intention of revealing the total value of the updated contract, reports Variety.
"I have not heard of any plans to disclose the total contract value when negotiations conclude. We haven't done that in the past," SAG spokesman Greg Krizman told the venerated Hollywood paper.
SAG/AFTRA's initial proposal included a 5% increase for minimum rates, and the cognoscenti assume SAG/AFTRA is haggling for an extra $100 million or so.
SAG's silence over the total amount shouldn't be surprising, even given the WGA's complete disclosure over its deal. Neither the Directors Guild of America nor the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees make public the total cost of their contracts.
SAG was also remarkably tight-lipped on its deal with advertisers last fall that followed a six-month strike. Those talks were marked by bitter and acrimonious accusations on both sides. A total cost was never revealed, and SAG only offered numbers on certain cable payments and Internet jurisdiction.
Talks are not the only thing moving at a snail's pace in Hollywood at the moment, affected by the wave of negotiations. As Hollywood braced for a potential writers' strike in April and May, production companies stockpiled as much as they could in advance, and spent much of their production money.
Additionally, studios are unwilling to make deals with actors until negotiations are resolved with SAG/AFTRA, freeing actors to complete contracts that they sign.
The onslaught of summer heat may have movies exploding on screen, but it's brought a wilting effect on Hollywood denizens.
We're down to the wire in the May sweeps, and NBC really tightened this race up last week with yet another monster Thursday. With the Must See season finale triple-header coming this Thursday, do we smell a potential ABC upset in the offing? We certainly hope so. Because if that smell isn't "upset," then it must be us. And frankly, it's getting pretty unpleasant in here.
But we digress.
Here now is an annotated look at the Top 10 primetime shows for the TV week ended May 14, as determined by the fine folks at Nielsen Media Research. (Each rating point is worth a little more than 1 million viewers).
1. "ER," NBC - 22.1 This was Julianna Margulies' last episode as a regular. The show's rating probably would have been even higher had it not aired opposite an Arena Football game on TNN.
2. (TIE) "Frasier" (9 p.m., Thursday) NBC - 15.6 Seriously, these are all second-to-last episodes before the cliffhangers. Watch for NBC to be a beast this coming Thursday.
2. (TIE) "Who Wants to Be a Millionaire" (Tuesday), ABC - 15.6 Obviously still very impressive, but maybe they should have filmed an extra week with the celebrities, just in case.
4. "Who Wants to Be a Millionaire" (Wednesday), ABC - 15.1
5. "Jesus" (Part I, Sunday), CBS - 15.0 This was a retelling of the life of Jesus that broke all the rules, defied convention and showed us a Jesus we haven't seen before. Call us old-fashioned, but four hours of Bible stuff and not even a cameo for Charlton Heston?! Is nothing sacred anymore?
6. "Who Wants to Be a Millionaire" (Sunday), ABC - 14.8 So, here it is: "Jesus" beat out Regis in the head-to-head battle Sunday night. Thank God Hey, wait a minute!
7. "Who Wants to Be a Millionaire" (Thursday), ABC - 14.5
8. "Friends" (8 p.m., Thursday), NBC - 14.4 Bruce Willis appeared in this episode; Tom Selleck shows up in the next episode … but remember the one with Charlton Heston? Now that was a good one. We're not saying an eighth place finish is bad or anything, but Mr. Heston definitely could have helped.
9. "Friends" (8:30 p.m., Thursday), NBC -- 14.0
10. "Frasier" (9:30 p.m., Thursday), NBC - 13.8 Sure, everybody loves the Niles/Daphne love story, but doesn't the rather obvious sexual orientation issue make it all a little hard to believe? Seriously, Daphne is just way too masculine, don't you think?
And in the overall battle for network supremacy, ABC held on to its lead with a 9.3 average rating. NBC got serious, grabbing second place with a just-off-the-pace 9.0. CBS is undoubtedly rethinking the Charlton Heston issue, as "Jesus" was only good enough to help the network limp to a third place 8.1 finish. Fox continued to show improvement as its consistent, if unspectacular lineup, pushed it to a 5.7.
As for the weblets, "WWF Smackdown!" continued to put up big numbers, making all the difference in the battle of UPN vs. the WB. The winner? The "Smackdown"-equipped UPN -- 2.8 to 2.3.