Smaller Actors Union Delays Contract Talks to May 5

The American Federation of Television and Radio Artists said Wednesday it would delay the start of its contract talks with Hollywood studios for a week to give the ongoing Screen Actors Guild negotiations a better chance to succeed.

The move pushed back the start of talks from April 28 to May 5.

The Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers said on its Web site that it was not close to reaching a deal with SAG.

"At this time there remain significant gaps between the two parties, and we hope to use the extra time to narrow these gaps," it said.

The federation said it made the move at the request of the major studios and believes it will not hurt its members.

"We believe we can best serve our members' interests by briefly postponing our negotiations," the statement said.

A messages seeking comment from SAG was not immediately returned.

The Screen Actors Guild and Hollywood producers started talks on a new contract on April 15 with the hope of avoiding a replay of the 100-day strike by Hollywood writers that shut down production of dozens of TV shows.

AFTRA and the producers, represented by the alliance, have both stressed that they were seeking to reach a deal quickly and avoid another strike.

SAG, however, had been expected to push for a better deal than writers and directors received in previous negotiations with studios.

The delay by AFTRA may signal the Screen Actors Guild is prepared to accept a deal similar to the one accepted by writers in mid-February, said entertainment lawyer Jonathan Handel.

"This is a great move, definitely reducing the possibility of a strike," he said.

SAG, which represents 120,000 members, and the studios are negotiating a new three-year deal covering movies and prime-time television. The current three-year contract expires June 30.

Improved compensation for DVDs and content distributed online is a key issue in the actors negotiations, just as it was for writers and directors.

The federation previously decided to negotiate separately with studios for the first time in 27 years.

SAG and AFTRA had been set to conduct joint talks until AFTRA President Roberta Reardon blasted SAG in late March for what she called its "relentless campaign of disinformation and disparagement" aimed at enticing actors in the soap drama "The Bold and The Beautiful" to abandon the federation in favor of the guild.

AFTRA has 70,000 members and mostly represents broadcast performers.

SAG President Alan Rosenberg responded that his organization, which represents film and prime-time TV talent, had no desire to woo daytime soap stars away from the federation.

He called the suggestion that SAG was trying to poach the actors an excuse by AFTRA to hasten the end of their partnership.