The American Federation of Television & Radio Artists
is trying to negotiate a blanket contract to cover performers working on made-for-cable-TV
programs -- a highly sensitive initiative in the cable industry, particularly regarding
the issue of residuals.
AFTRA announced March 31 that it had opened discussions
with the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers about doing an industrywide
contract covering all original cable programs, instead of continuing with the current
practice of doing deals on a case-by-case or program-by-program basis.
"We've had considerable success in negotiating
AFTRA coverage, wages, benefits and protection in some 500 cable agreements with
independent producers and cable networks over the past five years, but often on a
show-by-show basis," AFTRA president Shelby Scott said in a prepared statement.
"That wastes resources for everyone. It's time to move toward an industry
But AFTRA's plans didn't sit well with some cable
networks. In fact, several cable networks declined to comment on the record last week on
AFTRA's unionization effort.
"It's a touchy issue," one top
cable-programming executive said. "This industry [cable] has created thousands of
jobs for AFTRA's members. This [unionization] proposal is a reflection of the work 30
years ago. It's a different world now."
One of the issues that would have to be hashed out in order
for AFTRA to secure an industrywide cable contract is that of residuals -- the fees paid
to performers when programs that they appear in are rerun.
Residual payments would be particularly burdensome for
cable networks, the programmer said, since most of their schedules are built on many
replays of shows and made-for-cable movies.
"We live on reruns," the cable programmer said.
"That's how cable is done. Now they say that we have to restructure this in a
way to pay out residuals."
Ray Solley, an agent at William Morris who specializes in
putting together cable-programming deals, agreed that "the real issue here is what
kind of residuals will be paid: how the reruns and residuals will be calculated, and how
they will be paid."
Solley noted that he is working on a program deal with one
cable network that may fall through because the network doesn't want to deal with the
issue of residuals.
However, an AFTRA spokesman tried to play down the
residuals issue, saying that it's just one of many items that will have to be
addressed before a collective union agreement can be struck with cable.
AFTRA currently has some agreements that cover blocks of
programming with cable networks including E! Entertainment Television and its Style
spinoff, Nickelodeon, Fox Family Channel, Home Box Office, Comedy Central and The