So If Actors Go Out on Strike,
How Will We Know?

by Ray Richmond (from his forthcoming book, "An Oprah Book Club Selection")

Like you, I've been hearing quite a little bit about the fact that the Screen Actors Guild is weighing the option of walking off the job, a puzzling notion for a group whose unemployment level hovers around 90% at any point in time. Exactly which job is it that these people would be walking out of? Would the picket signs read, "On Strike — But Available For Auditions"?

Here is what we DO know: in the unlikely event that SAG members vote to strike sometime in the next several weeks, it will do the rank-and-file no good. It's already a foregone conclusion they will get screwed no matter how many months they walk the line because the only card they hold is the Joker.

The studios have SAG over a barrel. It has zero leverage. This isn't about fairness but reality. The producers have prepared for a strike and have the PR machinery in place to crush the guild like a potato bug should they foolishly strike. They will be painted as fat-cat ingrates who care nothing for the public's right to quality entertainment during our summer of wallet-busting gas and general economic woes. Their adoring fans will pelt them with disdain and eggs and upraised middle fingers.

The only human who doesn't seem to understand this is unfortunately the president of SAG. His name is Alan Rosenberg, and he's so confused that he's turned the fight against the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists (better known as AFTRA) rather than the studios who would love to see nothing more than for his guild to shatter and disappear.

In its contract, AFTRA typically gets jobbed so badly in terms of minimums and residuals that it makes SAG's pact look like a Microsoft balance sheet. Rosenberg knows this and has lately been taking the federation to task for caving like bent-over bitches in its latest yet-to-be-ratified pact with the television networks. We might compare Rosenberg's behavior to the Bush Administration post-9/11 when it opted to invade one country for the misdeeds of another.

But let's back up for just a second. This, after all, has nothing to do with making gains for the teeming performing masses yearning to become one with a craft services table. It's about Rosenberg's ego, mostly. He is also probably compensating for earning considerably less than his wife, Marg Helgenberger, a regular on CSI who makes in the neighborhood of $400,000 an episode.

So here we have a guy who could take baths in sunken tubs overflowing with $100 bills — and could well do just that, for all we know — fighting to land fair compensation for a guild whose vast majority of members never work. Ergo, he never needs to earn another penny from acting or anything else and would still survive just fine. Given that actors aren't viewed as the most magnanimous lot, it's difficult to see the motivation.

Again, however, the actors aren't going to vote to strike. They need to get hired in the first place before they're liable to get all obsessed with making sure they get at least $327 on the eighth airing of their five-second cameo on According to Jim.

And oh yeah, another thing: TV no longer employs a whole lot of actors. In case you haven't much noticed, reality has taken hold of much of the tube. Even though many of the competitors are probably actors, they aren't compensated as such. That particular job market has thus mostly dried up. Do the actors really want to so piss off the producers that they force their hand to bag the few scripted propositions they were even considering? Oh sure.

The studios already have plainly demonstrated their utter sub-humanity when it comes to paying people for a day's work. They start to get all Robert Mugabe-like in their thought process when they're asked to fork over an additional .025% for Internet streams. We're left with the unmistakable impression that if they could, they'd simply hire robots. Or elaborately-disguised hyenas. It's nothing personal, you understand. Just business.

Perhaps the most important consideration when weighing the wisdom of heading down the strike road is the towering improbability of actors giving the go-ahead for an action that would require them to be on their feet some 30 to 40 hours a week. They already have to do that in their day job waiting tables. You think they're going to agree to do it when there's no tip involved? Guess again, bucko.

We also have to ask ourselves: If an actor who never works strikes a studio, what is it he's striking for? For the future generation of unemployed actors, of course. Sharing the futility may well be its own reward. REX