Through the Wire


Toon Talent May Get a Big Salary Bump

SpongeBob SquarePants, Kim Possible and Space Ghost may be getting a raise. The actors who voice these characters are in line for a 20% increase in their earnings from residuals, according to the Screen Actors Guild. The compensation covers a typical run pattern for cable cartoons: a debut of an episode, plus 25 repeats. According to SAG, it's the first time in 16 years voice talent has seen an improvement in their residuals contract.

The trade union has reached a tentative agreement on behalf of the voice talent with producers of animated basic-cable programming, including Walt Disney Pictures & Television, Warner Bros. Animation and Cartoon Network Studios.

The contract is scheduled for ratification by April 30. If approved, the terms will be retroactive to Jan. 1 and will cover work through June 2008.

This may be the beginning of a trend that will make much of basic-cable fare more expensive to produce and translate into higher licensing fees. In a statement to members, SAG president and actor Alan Rosenberg said that meetings were held with performers from made-for-basic-cable shows in five cities the week of March 20 to discuss upcoming contract talks for those actors.

Attendance included unnamed but “high-profile performers who star in their own shows,” to rank-and-file members, according to the statement. In addition to discussing the latest contract offer from producers, strike authorization votes were taken at meetings, Rosenberg noted.

The results of those votes were not revealed, he said, adding that negotiators will continue to work for a fair contract. The union “hopes to avoid any work interruption in pursuit of that equitable deal,” he said.

Stay tuned, wallets poised.

Another Day, Another Viewpoint

When it comes to the mandated sale of cable networks on an a la carte basis, the American Conservative Union has probably established a record for confused lobbying: the group has enunciated three different policy positions in the space of 13 months.

ACU, formed to rally the political right in late 1964 after Barry Goldwater's crushing presidential defeat, is considered the oldest and largest conservative grassroots organization in the U.S. It is not known for being a flip-flopper when it believes liberty to be under potential government assault.

But ACU's association with the a la carte issue has not been a model of clarity. Last May, group chairman David Keene signed an open letter to Congress that called for legislation forcing a la carte on cable because “raunchy programming pouring out of our television sets day and night has become an issue of national concern.” The letter complained that cable's programming bundles were similar to a store that would force consumers to buy cigarettes if all they wanted was milk and bread.

A la carte, which ACU said was “acceptable to conservatives,” was a feasible solution because “the technology exists and the system could be implemented overnight — but the cable monopolies won't allow it.”

Seven months later, ACU, for reasons unknown, reversed course. In a Dec. 12 letter to Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.), ACU deputy director Stacie Rumenap called a la carte legislation “a massive intrusion into the private sector,” which would “constitute a fundamental breach of free-market principles …”

Rumenap added that a la carte could raise cable rates and drive niche networks, aimed at minority groups, from the market. The imposition of a la carte would represent a “huge new regulatory regime imposed at a time of exciting innovation in the telecommunications industry.”

Asked to explain the conflicting positions, Rumenap said she was unable to determine whether Keene signed the first letter or “someone signed his name without thinking about it.” Rumenap said the conflict was likely the result of “a staff mistake somewhere down the line.”

Right now, though, it's still unclear whether ACU supports a la carte legislation. Or not. Because ACU has taken both sides, it has decided to withdraw from the debate.

“We don't have a position,” Rumenap said.

FSN Prime Ticket Comes Out to Queen

It was hard for Southern Californians to ignore the debut of Fox Sports West 2's new name.

In a promotional stunt, the networks crafted intriguing spots, mimicking the opening to the Fox broadcast-network hit 24, which were partially filmed on the set of the frenetic serial. The date 4-3-06 began ticking on the screen instead of 24. Instead of Jack Bauer played by Kiefer Sutherland, Los Angeles Clippers basketball players Elton Brand and Corey Maggette played the “agents.”

Former Los Angeles Dodgers manager Tommy Lasorda chimed in on the spot, and there even was some authentic 24 cast participation, just for a little corporate synergy, in the form of Roger Cross, aka agent Curtis Manning.

The head-scratcher was the non-Fox, non-sports star in the spots: Brian May of the band Queen. But who else to perform “Another One Bites the Dust” for the on-field debut of the network's new name, Prime Ticket, at opening day in Dodger Stadium on April 3.

We're sure “We are the Champions” will be part of the program, too.

Dogging Your Mobile Phone

It will be interesting to track the popularity of this program tie-in.

Enpocket, which describes itself as the global leader in intelligent mobile marketing, will be bringing used-car salesmen and bounty hunters to your phone, should you choose to accept that. The firm has partnered with A&E Network to provide phone interactivity in support of King of Cars and Dog the Bounty Hunter.

Cars fans will be able to send a text order by phone to receive weekly messages from “Chop,” the fast-talking salesman. They can also their phones to vote for their favorite used car commercials, as created by other viewers.

Dog devotees can opt into weekly “Dogisms,” sayings by the bounty hunter, such as (growl it with me!) “When you break someone down, make sure you always raise them up higher than they were before.”

Fans can create and post their own dogisms.

One entry: “Take a break from your TV and phone and read a book!”

Just a suggestion.

Contributors: Linda Haugsted and Ted Hearn