The Actors' Unions Divide and Conquer...Themselves

Hosted by

I'm Matt Holzman with The Business Brief, a guide to what's happening in and around the business this week.

The actors' contract with the studios is up June 30, and a funny thing happened on the way to the negotiating table. I don't mean funny ha-ha, I mean funny bad, especially if you're an actor. The two actors' unions have decided that they will negotiate with the studios separately.

Hollywood's creative unions -- the Writer's Guild, the Director's Guild and so on -- have always been a bit quirky. They've always been rife with internal dissention -- hey, the words "creative" and "works well with others" don't necessarily go hand in hand.

The acting guilds have some special challenges. First of all, they're run by actors. But the real issue is that there are two actors unions, which really complicates matters during negotiations.

SAG -- the screen actors' guild, which is the larger of the two, has some 120,000 members. They represent actors in filmed movies and television. AFTRA – the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists has about 70,000 members. They cover all sorts of performers, but when it comes to what you see on your TV, they cover shows shot on video tape, like chat shows and soap operas. Over the years, the relationship between the two unions has turned into a soap opera, and the latest episode is really over the top.

In fact, it really does concern a soap opera. Actors from The Bold and the Beautiful – an AFTRA show -- recently talked about defecting to SAG. Seems like a minor jurisdictional issue, right? But the result has been an international incident between the two unions right before a major contract negotiation, it's an incident that's likely to seriously weaken the actors' bargaining position.

Before you dismiss the episode as, "Geez those actors are so theatrical," AFTRA doesn't see this as SAG trying to steal a couple of actors from geriatric melodrama. They see it as part of a continuing effort to scuttle their union. And if you know the history between these guys, you could understand why.

A couple of years ago, there was an attempt to create a merger of the two unions -- a merger of equals. That failed, and now, some would say, SAG is attempting to kill AFTRA outright and The Bold and the Beautiful incident is the first shot in a major offensive. Others would say that the incident was just an ill-timed misstep, and that both sides should get over themselves.

But whether you believe in the conspiracy or not, it's clear the incident has nothing to do with bargaining objectives or tactics during this current negotiation. And those are the only reasons that would justify a split.

You have to understand that there's never been any love lost between the two guilds. But they've held their noses and bargained jointly with the studios for the past 27 years. After all, there's power in numbers -- that's the point of a organized labor.

So, the actors may be ready for another Hollywood strike. Not of the studios, but of their unions…until they kiss and make up.

Speaking of break-ups, you all remember when Paramount and Tom Cruise went their separate ways almost two years ago.

Long story short, Cruise was in his couch-jumping phase, but more to the point, Paramount wasn't getting a big enough cut on his movies to justify his deal. It wasn't that shocking that Paramount ended their production deal with Cruise. But it weird that Sumner Redstone, the head of Viacom, dropped the ax and not the head of the studio. And he did it in such a vitriolic and public way. It seemed like Redstone had gone off his medication.

But now it appears they're making up. Merissa Marr of the Wall Street Journal, reported that Cruise and Redstone had a romantic tête-à-tête at the Polo Lounge at the Beverly Hills Hotel the week before last. It's clear that redstone is trying to make nice. He came to Tom's neighborhood, and reportedly let Cruise pick the venue. Most importantly, they met in a place where god and everyone could see them together. It seems it's Sumner's saying, "I humiliated you in public, now I'm going to eat a little crow." Well, actually he had the Ni&ccedile;coise salad.

For KCRW, I'm Matt Holzman and that's The Business Brief.



Matt Holzman