Fox actors get 'the letter'



20th Century Fox Television on Monday became the latest TV studio to send out suspension letters to regulars on series that have been shut down because of the writers strike.

The letters feature a new twist to the legal lingo used by the two other studios that previously notified their actors, Universal Media Studios and Sony Pictures TV. It doesn't include either force majeure or hiatus, though its terms resemble a hiatus status.

According the Fox memo, with their shows dark, the actors still are under a deal with the studio, their series remain in first position, and they have to return to work when the walkout ends.

"The agreement has not been suspended and continues in full force and effect," the letter said.

For actors who have not met their guaranteed minimum episodes, those episodic fees will be paid during their time off, but they would serve as an advance toward future episodes.

This is the type of legal terms that TV studios have been gravitating toward in the past week, following Sony Pictures TV's Nov. 9 use of unpaid hiatus status that came under fire from SAG and AFTRA, which called it a violation of their joint TV contract and vowed to take action against it.

According to SAG's interpretation of Section 61 of its collective bargaining agreement, actors can be suspended for a period of up to five weeks at half pay. At the end of that period, the performers or the studios terminate the deals (unless the studios decide to put them on hold with full pay).

Upon termination, actors are free to do other projects. When production on the shows resumes, they are guaranteed to be rehired under the original terms of their deals and have to make an effort to accommodate the series, but their new projects are in first position.

Last week, UMS was the first TV studio to say that it would comply with SAG's force majeure provisions in written notifications to its regulars on "The Office," "30 Rock" and "Bionic Woman" and Sci Fi Channel's "Battlestar Galactica" (HR 11/16).

However, some actors' representatives were later instructed over the phone by NBC Universal legal reps that their clients are being suspended without pay after they meet their guaranteed minimums, they remain exclusive to the studio and have a 48-hour recall time to report for work after the strike ends (HR 11/19). Such terms are very similar to those used by 20th TV and are much closer to hiatus status than what constitutes force majeure per SAG.