To those who crave the spotlight, check your egos at the door

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An open letter to SAG president Alan Rosenberg and executive director Doug Allen.

Dear Alan and Doug:

Sorry for the informality. I know we don't actually know each other, although Alan, I once saw you die on "Chicago Hope." Or maybe it was "ER." I still can't get those shows straight, although I'm guessing the residuals checks probably help you tell them apart.

Anyway, I heard that both of you guys were pretty upset last week that the American Federation of Television & Radio Artists -- I'm going to take the liberty of calling them AFTRA -- refused to postpone its negotiations on a new primetime TV contract with the major studios and sent you to the bench just when you claimed to be making progress on your own deal with the AMPTP after 18 days at the bargaining table.

I know it's lousy to have all of that momentum stopped in its tracks. But guys, come on, your talks had already been extended twice, and from what I can gather you're not exactly ensconced in a love fest these days with your fellow union. So why all of the pouting? When your people and AFTRA can't figure out a way to negotiate together for the first time in 27 years, no one needs to remind you that chivalry and decorum shouldn't be high on your list of expectations.

But the last thing you need right now is a lecture, and that isn't what you'll get here. Consider it instead to be a perspective alert, a timely reminder that even should AFTRA bang out a relatively quick deal as predicted, and you're both carting a big heap of righteous indignation and defiance into talks, you can't allow your egos to take center stage.

Too much is riding on this, Alan and Doug, for you to permit hostility to trump good judgment.

This town can't afford another strike. C-A-N-N-O-T. Period. That has to be on your mind at all times. Actors already are looking more and more like something of an endangered species, at least in television primetime, where producers have discovered a cost-cutting solution to the expense of scripted product called "reality," which involves very little reality and close to zero guild involvement. You don't want to give these people increased motivation to move even farther away from the thespian world.

Getting a deal done by June 30, or at least before a strike authorization vote sends everything careening once again out of control, is far more imperative than crushing the enemy and satisfying your own innate alpha-male aggression. It's easy to believe that but tough to put it into practice. It requires composure and acuity and restraint.

All of the piddling bureaucratic details and daily affronts can be frustrating at best and infuriating at worst, I'm sure. But your job is to keep your eyes on the prize. That prize is not a slightly better contract procured following months of another devastating Hollywood shutdown that can't be weathered. You guys need to be the brick wall erected in the path of a walkout, not the grease for its wheels.

It's well understood that you're negotiating with an adversary that doesn't have the best interests of your 120,000 members at heart. Everyone gets that. Too, it's a given that rolling over and taking a lousy deal -- and having to spin it to avoid being pilloried and pummeled -- isn't much of an option, either.

But that need not happen. You'll still have five weeks after resuming negotiations to make an equitable accord in advance of the deadline, and I have to believe that the majors are no more girding for another strike than they are hoping for a nuclear holocaust (one of which can wreak havoc on an entire weekend's boxoffice gross).

Nothing at this level is ever simple or orderly. Your struggles at the table already have clearly demonstrated that. Yet if, as you say, SAG was mere "hours" away from reaching a deal at the time talks broke off, then do what you have to do to get it done without giving up the farm. A crop or two is OK. Check those pesky egos at the door and compromise. Be tough, but also even-tempered and conciliatory.

The industry you save may be your own.

Peace and pay hikes.
-- Ray Richmond

Ray Richmond can be reached at ray.richmond@THR.com.
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