Jeff Zucker says a SAG strike will end Hollywood

by Paul William Tenny

I wrote yesterday about a story on SyFy Portal that took some comments by Heroes star Sendhil Ramamurthy so far out of context that it was essentially putting not just words, but entire passages in his mouth. Somehow, Ramamurthy hoping that a potential SAG strike later this summer wouldn't delay or interfere with the production of his shows third season was warped into the possibility that a SAG strike could cause the show to be canceled. To back this up, there was a reference the failed Heroes spin-off Origins that would have either killed time during the parent shows mid-season hiatus, or filled up airtime in between complete seasons. It's premature death is blamed squarely on the WGA strike which couldn't possibly have had an effect on a series that wasn't greenlit, much less under production at the time. Certainly it would have thrown NBC's schedule into disarray as it did every other network, but that is hardly the same situation Heroes, NBC, and the other networks are currently facing.
No one has bothered trying to explain why NBC would consider canceling it's most successful scripted drama in years, how that cancellation would make the situation any better if SAG actually does strike -- which is anything but certain at this point -- or if they could even afford it, given the revenue it generates for rating very favorably in the demo.

If you look at the quote yourself, you'll come to the same conclusion that I have. Ramamurthy has no special insider knowledge about what the SAG strike may do to NBC, his show, or anything else. How you can possibly read such impending doom from a statement like his is beyond me. Since that's been pretty well covered, I thought it worth pointing out another story along the same lines that for whatever reason chose the most overly dramatic outcome of a SAG strike to write about -- regardless of how likely that outcome is -- openly wondering if it would kill off the entire industry.

This all appears to be coming from statements made by NBC chief Jeff Zucker, who is amongst the very least credible people on the entire planet when it comes to the effect of an organized labor stoppage on his own company. This is a studio suit who was selling doom to a group of advertisers in a weak attempt to turn them against SAG, something they tried and for the most part failed to do during the WGA strike. Looking at the situation objectively once real numbers about the money involved were finally thrown into the public square, most everyone who didn't work for an AMPTP company could plainly see how little it would cost to give the labor unions what they wanted, versus how incredibly much it would cost for them to walk out.

Advertisers were no different -- they knew damn well that the WGA strike was nothing more than a failed power play by the AMPTP because, like it or not, they had succeeded at pushing labor unions around for much of the past twenty years. Jeff Zucker has every reason to smear SAG and scare the hell out of the advertisers since his company would be on the losing end of the deal. This is the same guy who, along with every other studio and network exec, said the WGA strike would have zero financial impact on their bottom line, going so far as to say the writers could remain on strike indefinitely, and it wouldn't hurt them in the least.

Three months later after swearing up and down they wouldn't give in, the AMPTP caved after losing hundreds of millions of dollars in potential advertising revenue, and costing the L.A. economy billions.

I believe it was Less Moonves that actually welcomed the WGA strike with open arms, thanking writers for the opportunity to restructure how the networks do business. Four months after that, only NBC has actually changed the way they do things, and nobody knows if it's going to work. Every network took a beating in the ratings.

Zucker is repeating many of the same lines he used just a couple of months ago while pitching his GE unit as healthy and growing to Wall Street investors.

"The fact is I don't think it would have an impact on the film business. Our film business has prepared. But it would have a real impact on the television business, and I don't think the economy or the television business would be able to survive something like that."

Unlike with the WGA strike where the effect is significant but delayed, a SAG strike would put an immediate halt to every television show and feature film currently in production, without exception. You can shoot a movie with an already completed script if you're willing to forgo changes mid-flight, but once the actors walk off the stage, that's pretty much the ballgame. How Zucker expects feature films to continue shooting with actors when TV shows cannot really highlights how dishonest his argument is. He is right about one thing though, another hit on TV production would be devastating. Many shows restarted production once the AMPTP and WGA made up, but they'll be right in the middle of their run when SAG steps up to the plate. They could easily finish what the WGA began, killing off an entire season.

It's hard to sympathize with the networks over this since all we're talking about right now is a fair share of future digital media profits -- money that hasn't been earned and won't become significant for years to come. One must wonder why the networks would rather lose an entire television season today, rather than simply allow creative talent to share fairly in digital profits tomorrow. My money says they have no intention of doing that, anymore than they were willing to let the WGA strike drag on any longer than it did. The way they caved and how quickly it came made it pretty clear that the AMPTP had no intention of bargaining with the writers until after the DGA pact was signed, and that those tactics were written in stone long before negotiations ever began.

We won't be seeing a repeat of that circus this time around, for several reasons:

Different Goals - The WGA wanted things from the AMPTP that neither the DGA nor SAG care about. Organizing reality was a huge barrier to getting a deal, among other things. The DGA doesn't rely on residuals as much as the other two guilds does, and those kinds of differences exist here. SAG doesn't care about reality and probably won't fight for a DVD increase, which really only leaves their wish to improve the digital media terms. Since the AMPTP has come this far and given up so much ground on digital media, I don't see them willing to endure another crippling strike just to come a little further.

Weak Knees - I don't know if this is true, but I've read that studio and network execs have notoriously weak knees when it comes to A-list actors. When they come together in the same room, execs fold like a house of cards. A little Tom Hanks in the room can go a long way, an Ace up the sleeve that writers have never had.

Strength - The DGA is as weak willed as the execs are weak kneed and the WGA is militant by comparison with the other two guilds, which leaves SAG as the "reasonable moderate" that has both power and savvy. 120,000 actors will walk off the stage and onto the picket lines -- which will sparsely populated with grateful writers in solidarity -- which can bring every production to an immediate halt. That is a very dangerous combination that makes a strike the least effective means of getting what they want.

Regardless of how you may personally feel about all of this, one thing you can go to the bank on is the AMPTP execs spinning and lying their way through the next couple of months. There was hardly a moment where a nugget of truth escapes their lips in the fight against the writers and as Jeff Zucker has just shown, what they say is so far detached from reality that it might as well be coming straight out of the PR department.

A lengthy SAG strike will undoubtedly hurt the L.A. economy some more -- something that didn't seem to concern Zucker & company three months ago in the least, going so far as to skip a city council meeting whose only purpose was for the WGA and AMPTP to speak about why this strike was necessary -- but it won't end Hollywood. As many astute observers noted, these companies are all "vertically aligned" and owned by billion dollar multi-national conglomerates. They can hang in there for the duration if they really wanted to and it the cost would be paid mostly by the local economy, not these corporations.

It's long past time for bloggers and journalists to get their heads out of their respective asses and stop believing every single thing the execs feed them. The same people who are saying their companies could be doomed if the advertisers don't immediately pressure SAG to back off were saying they were bullet proof four months ago. Hollywood isn't going down the tubes, SAG probably won't strike, and in another four months nobody will remember any of this stuff. Heroes will still be on the air, the networks will still green-light total crap, and Fox will still be the devil.

Get over it.
in Business, Labor


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1 Comment

You just slay me sometimes!!

And yeah - FOX will always be the devil. Someday...someday soon...SAG and the WGA will seriously put their "heads" together and - Woe to the suits baybee. Like EC said, ...let it rain.

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