Will actors strike like writers? Ed Asner predicted it in 1980

On Monday, more than a month after the writers’ strike began, SAG-AFTRA members agreed that they too will go on strike if the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers does not offer them an acceptable new contract by June 30. If that happens before the WGA and AMPTP settle their differences, it would be the first time writers and actors have quit together since 1960, further disrupting television and film production.

For the record:

Jun 7, 2023 4:52 p.mAn earlier version of this story said that if the SAG went on strike while the WGA was still going on strike, it would be the first time both guilds would go on strike at the same time. It would be the first time since 1960.

This is a rare but not unforeseen situation. If anyone in SAG-AFTRA believes in ghosts, they should be on the lookout for the specter of a 5’7, bald man with bulldog shoulders, prominent eyebrows and a picket sign that reads “I told you so.”

Ed Asner may have died almost two years ago, but for more than 40 years he has predicted the chaos Hollywood is in today.

When the actors quit in 1980, Asner, then-star of Lou Grant, a hit spin-off of his iconic role on The Mary Tyler Moore Show, became one of the most prominent voices on the strike. Like what Hollywood is currently facing, it was mostly about closeouts, then cable networks and then VHS tapes. Asner, still the most Emmy-winning male artist of all time, was adamant that studios needed to create a fair and extensible system to ensure actors were paid for their work every time they came on the platform was sold on which they were purchased.

He believed it so passionately that when SAG accepted a deal that, among other half-measures, allowed cable networks to air content for 10 days without paying any balance, he hit back. “I think it stinks” he said at the time.

Many SAG members agreed and elected him president the following year. Asner’s tenure was not boring — he was criticized for his liberal policies, particularly his criticism of then-President Reagan — but it carried a consistent message of disenfranchisement. Among other things, he pushed for a merger with AFTRA (which would not happen until 2012) and campaigned for legislation that made it unfair to use the profession as a metric for pricing auto insurance (the actors didn’t do particularly well). away).

More importantly, the man who perfected the quirky but kindhearted fellow, be it Mr. Grant or “Elf’s” Santa Claus, has spent much of his life reminding the world that many might dream of how it would be to be a movie star, most actors don’t live a life of luxury or, like Asner, are showered with awards.

It was and is an important message. Even more than writers, actors face a dilemma when it comes to labor disputes.

Charlton Heston holds a picket sign and leads a group of strikers.

Actor Charlton Heston waves to fans as he walks down the picket line outside Paramount Studios in Hollywood during the Screen Actors Guild and American Federation of Television and Radio Artists strike in 1980.

(Lennox McLendon/Associated Press)

When it comes to contractual disputes, the most well-known voices are inevitably the most well-known. It can be difficult for the average person to sympathize with famous actors who seem to be doing well with their multi-million dollar deals and commercial contracts.

But, as Asner keeps pointing out, most actors, even those that audiences keep seeing in supporting roles, don’t make millions; Most work from job to job hoping to earn enough to maintain their SAG-AFTRA membership and health insurance.

In fact, Asner was among those who filed (and posthumously won) a class action lawsuit against SAG after it raised the merit requirements for that health plan and banned 12,000 people from the program.

But his most repeated message was the reminder that actors at all levels are workers and deserve to be paid for their work, even as that work is sold or resold on a growing number of platforms.

“Since then, the same baby has come back to haunt us,” he said Backstage Magazine regarding the 1980 contract settlement. “It has led to the problems we are having now because we have not found a way to convince management that a formula needs to be developed here and now rather than waiting three years from now a new form of electronic marvel is coming onto the market.”

In 2008 he asked SAG members to vote to authorize a strike. Like the writers who went on strike last year, the actors believed they would be disadvantaged as more content went digital, although studios argued it was unpredictable whether the digital business would succeed.

“What the weak-kneed fail to acknowledge,” Asner wrote in an editorial for the Times in December this year, “is that the business plan for new media is being written and that what we are agreeing on now will be. ‘ becomes the ‘template’ that the industry will adhere to in the future, with no obligation to make benevolent changes. … This deal will cost actors billions of dollars, just as our bad home video and DVD business has cost actors $4.5 billion in compensation losses over the past 27 years.”

Although negotiations in 2008 were bitter and protracted, SAG did not take part in a strike vote and a deal was ratified in June 2009, a year after the old contract expired.

Well, it seems the actors are in the situation Asner predicted: once again, they’re trying to force the studios to come to terms with the fact that the entertainment business has radically changed, in a meaningful way, on a way that is costly to the people who create the actors entertainment.

I can’t imagine Asner would be happy to be right again, but I know exactly what he’d say: hold them to the fire now or next time you’ll be right back where you started.

Emma Bowman

Emma Bowman is a USTimesPost U.S. News Reporter based in London. His focus is on U.S. politics and the environment. He has covered climate change extensively, as well as healthcare and crime. Emma Bowman joined USTimesPost in 2023 from the Daily Express and previously worked for Chemist and Druggist and the Jewish Chronicle. He is a graduate of Cambridge University. Languages: English. You can get in touch with me by emailing emma@ustimespost.com.

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