In Depth

Editorial: In SAG Drama, A Little Paranoia Is Called For

Just because you’re paranoid doesn’t mean they’re not out to get you.

Just ask Screen Actors Guild President Alan Rosenberg, who has been the leading hard-liner in the actors’ negotiations with media companies over a new labor contract.

Mr. Rosenberg was pilloried for his antagonistic approach to talks with the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers, and moderates at SAG eventually pushed Mr. Rosenberg aside, in the hope that a less bellicose approach would bring an agreement with studios that would avert a strike.

Guess what? Mr. Rosenberg’s paranoia about the media companies’ goals in the negotiation may have been justified. Everyone (including TelevisionWeek) who criticized Mr. Rosenberg for trying to hold out for a better contract than was given to the Writers Guild of America and the Directors Guild of America needs to re-examine the record.

More importantly, the media companies need to reverse their recent detour into unproductive negotiating tactics and come to the table to reach a deal with SAG.

Conventional wisdom held that Mr. Rosenberg and his chief negotiator, Doug Allen, were doing SAG more harm than good as they fought the media companies for a better deal on new-media rights than the other unions secured. That led to Mr. Allen’s ouster and replacement by more moderate SAG leaders.

Then last week, the media companies decided to try to cripple SAG for years into the future by insisting on a contract term that would put the actors’ negotiations out of sync with the writers’ and directors’ deals. That, of course, would reduce SAG’s leverage in any talks.

That leaves contract talks in limbo, and it leaves SAG moderates (and those of us who advocated a more reasoned approach to negotiations) with egg on their face.

It turns out the Machiavellian goals that Mr. Rosenberg attributed to the media companies were closer to the truth than we imagined.

The result? Now SAG actually does have to seek a strike authorization vote to gain any leverage in negotiations. That pushes the industry closer to the brink—in even more dire economic times—than it was before.

Media companies in 2008 almost universally cited the WGA strike as having hurt their TV businesses. And now, in the middle of one of history’s worst recessions, media companies are ready to play chicken again.

We urge the companies to abandon their insistence that SAG’s contract run out of cycle with its sister unions.

It’s not the time to press advantages. It’s time to nurture an industry that’s challenged on every front.