American Federation of Television and Radio Artists Says Contract Talks With Studios to Begin Wednesday

Contract talks will begin Wednesday between the major Hollywood studios and the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists, the union said Tuesday.

The announcement came as studio talks with the larger Screen Actors Guild neared a temporary end to allow the AFTRA talks to begin. No agreement has been announced in those talks.

AFTRA said it will impose a press blackout on details of its upcoming discussions, which involve actors on primetime TV shows such as "Curb Your Enthusiasm," "Rules of Engagement," "Cashmere Mafia" and "Til Death."


s current primetime television contract with the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers expires June 30.

AFTRA was expected to reach a deal quickly.

The talks aren't likely to get any easier for SAG when they resume, since that could leave the union alone in its push to get a better deal than writers and directors on residual payments for DVD sales and content offered over the Internet.

Studios aren't likely to budge, even though both sides have said they want to avoid a repeat of the 100-day writers strike that shut down production on dozens of TV shows and cost the Los Angeles area economy an estimated $2.5 billion.

"Suppose they give SAG an improvement. What do you think writers and directors are going to say?" said Jonathan Handel, an entertainment lawyer who formerly represented the writers guild. "They're going to say we want that, too."

Writers and directors both reached new contract deals earlier this year. SAG's contract also expires June 30.

The Directors Guild of America said its contract contained no automatic trigger for an increase, but the union would revisit its deal in three years. The Writers Guild of America declined to comment on the matter.

SAG and the studios have declined to discuss the outlook for the talks that began on April 15.

SAG and AFTRA had negotiated together on the theatrical movie and primetime TV contract with studios for the past 27 years but split in March when AFTRA accused SAG of trying to entice actors in the soap drama "The Bold and The Beautiful" to abandon the federation.

Last week, AFTRA said its voting members had given 93 percent approval to a separate contract deal for the majority of TV shows it represents, including "Oprah" and "Entertainment Tonight."

AFTRA accepted terms on new media that amounted to a small, fixed payment for TV programs streamed online for one year, and a small percentage share of the distributors' gross revenue thereafter.

The studio alliance hailed the deal as "the latest to incorporate the groundbreaking new media framework" that writers won during their strike.

By contrast, the alliance blasted SAG for initially demanding an increase in DVD residual payments that it said would double the $500 million actors are now set to receive over the next three years.

SAG responded by scaling back its demands to what amounts to a 15 percent boost in the form of studio payments for health care and pensions.

A continuing stalemate could leave SAG with a difficult choice between pushing for a strike that has little support among its members or attempting to wring concessions from producers in other areas.

Norman Samnick, an entertainment lawyer who has represented Warner Bros. in previous contract talks with actors and remained close to negotiations, believes a deal will be cut before the current contract expires.

"I don't think there's going to be a strike," Samnick said. "I think the industry has suffered enough."

A number of actors have said they suffered through the writers strike and are not ready for another walkout.

Michael Kirkland, 34, who has appeared on "Jimmy Kimmel Live!" and earns about $30,000 a year, said he had to miss health insurance payments, including some involving coverage for his 13-year-old son.

"It all caught up with me now," he said. "I'm fortunate enough to be working, but if this strike does happen, I would be screwed."

The Screen Actors Guild has 120,000 members, while AFTRA represents about 70,000 people. The two unions share 44,000 dual members.

SAG represents actors in movies, TV and other media. The TV and radio federation represents, among others, actors, singers, announcers and journalists.