AFTRA Dominates Third Straight TV Pilot Season

Seventy of the 80 pilots ordered by broadcast networks are covered by the performers’ union, indicating SAG’s continued decline.

As efforts to merge the two onscreen performers' unions continue to move forward, one of those organizations is once again dominating television pilot season.

Of the 80 pilots ordered by broadcast networks this season, 70 are covered by the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists, according to data compiled Thursday. This is the third consecutive year that AFTRA has led pilot season, further cementing a dramatic shift from 2008, when the Screen Actors Guild covered 90 percent of pilots ordered.

Insiders have long attributed SAG's decline in pilot season to industry antipathy toward the guild following the 2008 contract stalemate, which saw AFTRA break from joint negotiations with SAG to cut its own deal with producers. SAG, under the leadership of combative former president Alan Rosenberg, did not finalize a new contract until the following year.

Rosenberg was succeeded in 2009 by Ken Howard, whose pro-merger coalition now holds sway over the national and Hollywood division boardrooms. In the wake of SAG and AFTRA's ratification in January of jointly negotiated TV-theatrical and network-code contracts, merger has become a front-burner issue. Previous efforts to marry SAG and AFTRA failed in 1998 and 2003.

Howard said at January's SAG Awards that he hoped to have the two unions merged before next year's awards ceremony. In an interview weeks earlier with Back Stage, AFTRA president Roberta Reardon said she felt the prospect of holding a ratification vote on the issue by "early 2012" was "realistic."

The two union presidents are currently engaged in a joint listening tour designed to gather membership feedback on merger.