Monday, July 31, 2023

TV: The strike and what it boils down to

There is a strike going on.  Some readers seem aware of that.  The Writers Guild have gone on strike and the Screen Actors Guild - American Federation of Television and Radio Artists voted to join them.  We'll assume some of the complaints in e-mails have to do with the fact that we haven't reviewed any entertainment programming in several weeks (May 31st's "Media: The Stupid, The Fake Asses and The Cowards").



But there is a strike going on and it's about many things -- including our rights as human beings, including our future and our past. Since one of us is a member of SAG, we'll let SAG explain.


 Here’s the simple truth: We’re up against a system where those in charge of multibillion-dollar
media conglomerates are rewarded for exploiting workers.
The companies represented by the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers
(AMPTP) — which include Amazon/MGM, Apple, Disney/ABC/Fox, NBCUniversal, Netflix,
Paramount/CBS, Sony, Warner Bros. Discovery (HBO), and others — are committed to
prioritizing shareholders and Wall Street. Detailed below are some of the key issues of the
negotiation and where things stand. We moved on some things, but from day one they wouldn’t
meaningfully engage on the most critical issues.
● Performers need minimum earnings to simply keep up with inflation.
○ Us: We need an 11% general wage increase in year 1 so our members can
recover from record inflation during the previous contract term.
○ Them: The most we will give you is 5%, even though that means your 2023
earnings will effectively be a significant pay cut due to inflation and it is likely you
will still be working for less than your 2020 wages in 2026.

● Performers need the protection of our images and performances to prevent replacement
of human performances by artificial intelligence technology.
○ Us: Here’s a comprehensive set of provisions to grant informed consent and fair
compensation when a “digital replica” is made or our performance is changed
using AI.
○ Them: We want to be able to scan a background performer’s image, pay them for
a half a day’s labor, and then use an individual’s likeness for any purpose forever
without their consent. We also want to be able to make changes to principal
performers’ dialogue, and even create new scenes, without informed consent.
And we want to be able to use someone’s images, likenesses, and performances
to train new generative AI systems without consent or compensation.

Performers need qualified hair and makeup professionals as well as equipment to safely
and effectively style a variety of hair textures/styles and skin tones.
Us: How about consultations with qualified hair and makeup professionals for all
performers on set to ensure equity for performers of color, and a requirement to
have the proper tools and equipment?
Them: Begrudgingly, we will do this for principal performers, but background
actors are on their own.

Performers need compensation to reflect the value we bring to the streamers who profit
from our labor.
Us: Consider this comprehensive plan for actors to participate in streaming
revenue, since the current business model has eroded our residuals income.
Them: No.
All performers need support from our employers to keep our health and retirement funds
Us: Contribution caps haven’t been raised in 40 years, imperiling our pension
and health plans. Would you consider raising the caps to adjust for inflation and
ensure that all performers, regardless of age or location, receive equal
Them: Here are some nominal increases nowhere near the level of inflation that
won’t adequately fund your health plan. Also, background child performers under
14 years of age living in the West Coast Zone don’t deserve pension
contributions, which is why we haven’t paid them since 1992.

Principal performers need to be able to work during hiatus and not be held captive by
Us: These timelines we’ve proposed help series regulars by limiting the
increasingly long breaks between seasons and giving them some certainty as to
when they’ll start work again or will be released.
Them: Take these select few improvements that will only help a select few.
Principal performers need to be reimbursed for relocation expenses when they’re
employed away from home.
Us: Drop the ruse that series regulars are becoming residents of a new state or
country when they go on location, and adequately pay them for all of their
relocation costs.
Them: Here’s some stipends which don’t realistically reflect the cost of relocating
to an out-of-state or out-of-country production.

We marched ahead because they intentionally dragged their feet.
After we agreed to their compressed bargaining schedule, the AMPTP subjected us to repeated
stonewalling and delays. It took more than four weeks of bargaining for the AMPTP to agree to simple basic issues of fairness and respect, such as:

● Access to reproductive healthcare and gender affirming care for performers working
away from home in states that restrict medical access.
● A consultation process to guard against racist and sexist “wiggings” and “paintdowns” of
stunt performers.
● Safety for performers working with animals on set.
Is this enough? We need transformative contracts, yet remain far apart on the most critical
issues that affect the very survival of our profession. Specifically, we need fair compensation
that accounts for inflation, revenue sharing on top of residuals, protection from AI technology,
and updates to our pension and health contribution caps, which haven’t been changed in
This is why we’re on strike. The AMPTP thinks we will relent, but the will of our membership has never been stronger. We have the resolve and unity needed to defend our rights.
Transparency: The following chart reflects our proposals and illustrates just how far apart we
remain on key issues. The document also indicates where we’ve reached a tentative
agreement, as well as proposals strategically withdrawn as part of the negotiating process.
For additional information, FAQs, picket locations and more, visit

We hope you agree that those issues kind of outweigh the need for constant entertainment.

Equally true, entertainment program is airing and not just repeats.  STARZ has kicked off the second season of MINX.  The first episode of season two aired last week and this show that was previously available through HBO, there's already a brand new major conflict.  No, we're not talking about how the new backer for the male nuder magazine is already pressuring Joyce (Ophelia Lovibond) to get rid Doug (Jake Johnson).  We're talking about how there's now a romantic complication between Joyce's sister Shelly (Lennon Parham) and Bambi (Jessica Lowe).  But, for the record, adding Elizabeth Perkins to the show as the money behind the magazine does bring in a lot of exciting possibilities.  She was a huge reason WEEDS worked so well as a blend of comedy and drama.  And she's also providing a reason to watch season two (which also just started, four episodes are currently available) of APPLE+ THE AFTERPARTY.  

Currently, there are three episodes of the JUSTIFIED reboot available.  FX and HULU have JUSTIFIED: CITY PRIMEVAL which finds Timothy Olyphant returning as US Marshal Raylan Givens.  Olyphant is relaxed and assured in the role and that's got to be partly because he's already survived a nightmare set on another program where a female producer thought casting was a stud call that should service her.  We're told there's no crazy on this shoot and we're glad.  No one deserves peace and success more than Timothy. 

Need a sitcom?  SON OF A CRITCH is airing on (and streaming at) THE CW.  This is a CBC series.  In terms of titles, it's similar to the CBC's SCHITT'S CREEK.  In terms of funny?  It's not to that level yet.  But it is funny and it's in its second season.

Or maybe you could watch ONCE IN A MILLION.  The series stars the late Shirley Hemphill.  It airead on ABC in 1980 and it's now streaming -- all 13 episodes --n CRACKLE.

Why would you watch the show?  It's funny.  

It's also historically important.  

Last week in "Media First Aid Kit (Ava and C.I.)," we noted how there was the reality about 1978's THE WIZ and there were the lies.  It was really important for a number of people -- people in power -- for THE WIZ to be seen as a bomb despite the fact that it sold tickets and that it made back its shooting budget on ticket sales in the US and Canada alone, despite the fact that CBS paid $10 million for the rights to air the film before it was even released.

THE WIZ was -- at worst -- a little more than a break even film.  If the overseas financials were released, we're probably be able to talk about how much of a profit it turned.

But reality was less important than the studios' powers.  And it was in their interest to clamp down on African-American talent.

By the mid-seventies, Carroll O'Connor had walked on ALL IN THE FAMILY demanding more money for each episode.  This would continue with one White, male actor after another through Larry Hagman's upping his pay to $75,000 an episode in 1980.  

Over and over, in the period between O'Connor and Hagman, this is how it works.  

If you're a White man.

If you're not?  The most famous case is Suzanne Somers.  They will fire a woman for doing the same thing.  They will and they did.

But the less famous case?

Before Shirley Hemphill played taxi driver Shirley Simmons whose left the controlling interest in a corporation and stays on to fight for solar energy and fair salaries and work conditions, she played another Shirley.

On WHAT'S HAPPENING!!, she played waitress Shirley Wilson and became a fan favorite immediately.  The ABC sitcom was a rip off of the film COOLEY HIGH.  Bud Yorkin had split with longtime producing partner Norman Lear and needed hits -- and wasn't in the mood to be careful or kind to get them.  Yorkin would only get worse as the series progressed.

First thing he did was a cast purge.  The only one who survived the original pilot was Ernest Thomas who played the main character Raj Thomas.  Rag was a high school student and, when the pilot was reshot, Danielle Spencer portrayed his younger sister Dee and Mabel King portrayed his mother Mable.  His best friends were Dwayne (Haywood Nelson, who actually was in the film COOLEY HIGH) and Rerun (Fred Barry).  The kids hung out after school at Rob's Place where Shirley Wilson was the waitress.

It was a hit show.  And Ernest Thomas and Fred Barry looked at the season one ratings and their low pay (as well as the substandard dressing rooms) and asked for a raise.  Not provided with one, they walked out.  

When Larry Hagman and Carroll O'Connor and assorted other White male actors walked, they got what they wanted.  Not so for Ernest and Fred.  They were suspended, as JET reported, and forced to provide bond basically (in order to return they had to sign promissory notes from $25,000 in case they walked again).

Racist Yorkin had already tangled with an African-American star before.  In 1974, Redd Foxx walked on SANFORD & SON and stayed gone for eight episodes until his salary (and ownership) demands were met.  Yorkin was furious with the network (NBC) and his then-partner Norman Lear for settling with Foxx.  He felt the show could go on without Foxx and that Whitman Mayo was enough to keep viewers.  He wasn't.  Clearly.  As Mayo's two failed spin-offs -- GRADY and SANFORD ARMS -- demonstrated, he was a pleasant addition to SANFORD & SON but he was not the reason anyone tuned in.

Without Lear's calmer perspective, Yorkin was left alone -- as he wanted to be.  And loudly Yorkin made clear that he was not going to be pushed around by those actors -- African-American ones.

WHAT'S HAPPENING was a popular show.  The actors' salaries did not reflect this.  Sally Wade wrote the season three episode "Dee Is A Cheerleader" which eventually aired January 25, 1979.  And Sally Wade re-wrote it when Ernest Thomas and Fred Berry again went on strike.

The actors returned but ABC and Yorkin decided no more and the popular show was cancelled to demonstrate that while the networks and studios might cater to White male actors, all women and people of color would not dictate terms, no matter how popular they were with audiences.


It's a lesson they loved to teach, that you're not really part of the business, that you're in on a pass and we will gladly screw you over and destroy you if you dare to think you deserve equality.  


Remember how we said WHAT'S HAPPENING!! stole from COOLEY HIGH?  That did not end well for the African-American man who wrote COOLEY HIGH.  As BLACKTHEN noted earlier this year

Eric Monte, a man who allowed his pen and desire to eliminate the stereotypes of African-Americans, became one of America’s favorite writers with credits of the movie Cooley High and the television shows: “All in the Family”, “The Jeffersons’s”, “Good Times”, “What’s Happening!” and he was also the guest writer penning an episode for the shows: “The Wayans Bros” and “Moesha”. A trailblazer in black television, Eric Monte showed America and the world an authentic view of life as a black American. Prior to 1970, blacks were portrayed as servants, sidekicks or clowns and uneducated. Eric Monte changed that by creating characters that were controversial and politically and socially conscious. With male figures such as James Evans and George Jefferson, it was the first time we saw ourselves on television living in a positive and productive way, regardless of our economic status.
Eric Monte credits his partnerships with Mike Evans (who played Lionel Jefferson on All in the Family) and Norman Lear (television writer and producer who produced a lot of 1970s sitcoms), regardless of the script of project, these two men were by his side. However, we all know that in any business industry, knowing the legal and business side of things is essential to your longevity, financial success, and reputation. Unfortunately for Eric Monte, he lost ownership rights of his creations, as well as the financial benefits that were to gain. In 1977, Eric filed a law suit against Norman Lear, CBS and ABC alleging that his story ideas were stolen. After winning the lawsuit, he was blacklisted in Hollywood and is still to this day. “As soon as I filed that suit, all of my offers dried up. Nobody in Hollywood would talk to me. I was blacklisted,” he said.

Again, the current strike is about many things and, as we've seen over and over, it's the talent, not the suits, that suffer.  The suits get big homes and big salaries.  They leach off the talent.  Shirley Hemphill was found dead in her home at the age of 52, a victim of kidney failure.  Fred Barry also died at home, also at the age of 52, from a stroke.  Mabel King made it to 66 and she died in a hospital -- complications from diabetes.  At the time of her death, she'd already had a toe amputated, her left leg amputated, her right leg amputated and one arm.  The suits on WHAT'S HAPPENING!!?  Saul Turteltaub lived to be 87 and died of natural causes, Bernie Orenstein is still alive at 92 and Bud Yorkin lived to be 89, died of complications from natural causes (he suffered from dementia in his final years). WHAT'S HAPPENING!! had three successful years on ABC and was hugely successful in syndication (so much so that the show would be brought back for three first-run in syndication seasons).  You don't see that success reflected in the lives the actors led but you do see it reflected in the lives the suits led.  That huge imbalance?  That's why there's a strike.

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