SAG Signs Discounted Cable Deal with TV Land

The mid-2011 deal, disclosed Friday on an anti-merger website, allows for a number of reruns without residuals, and brings to the fore, once again, an issue that’s strained relations between SAG and AFTRA.

In an apparent first for the guild, SAG has signed a basic cable deal that utilizes a so-called “exhibition day” residuals formula. Such formulas allow a number of reruns of a program before triggering residuals payments. The deal, with TV Land’s in-house production company, King Street Productions, covers all programming it makes for TV Land. 

A SAG spokesperson said the agreement “expands SAG's coverage in television.” The guild declined to provide a copy of the contract, but the spokesperson confirmed that it “utilizes an exhibition day formula for lower budgeted programs.” The number of exhibition days, and the residuals that kick in thereafter, were not disclosed.

In contrast, SAG’s standard basic cable agreement uses a formula – also used by the DGA and WGA – under which residuals are paid for each run, although they’re significantly lower than network or even syndication residuals. However, SAG has signed few basic cable deals in the last several years. Most of that work has gone to AFTRA.

The TV Land deal does not apply to TV Land’s flagship Hot in Cleveland, an AFTRA show that predates the deal nor, presumably, to three other King Street / TV Land shows that are signed to AFTRA: Happily Divorced, The Exes and Retired at 35. According to a source, TV Land’s parent, MTV Networks, is primarily an AFTRA shop.

All this suggests that SAG gained a beachhead into a corner of basic cable at the cost of making a less advantageous residuals deal. That’s a hallmark of competition between the unions that puts the agreement right in the middle of the debate within SAG – particularly, SAG’s Hollywood branch – over merger with AFTRA.

The TV Land deal was reached in mid-2011, but apparently first became public on Friday when an item was published on Arlin Miller’s SAG Watchdog, a website strongly opposed to merger (and not to be confused with SAGwatch, a different website with a pro-merger view).

On the website, Miller decried the deal. “Of course, this is the way they’ve always done business at AFTRA,” he said, “and now, for first time, SAG too.”

That appears to be true with regard to basic cable, but exhibition day formulas are not unknown to SAG: the pay TV rerun formulas for both unions are based on exhibition days, as is the WGA’s.

In general, both basic cable and pay TV (i.e., HBO, Showtime, Starz and Epix) are a patchwork and battleground for both above the line and below the line unions. Residuals formulas vary, budgets are lower, unscripted or non-union programs more frequent, and waivers and customized deals are more common than in network TV.

Basic cable apparently became a priority for AFTRA in the wake of the failure of a 2003 merger attempt between the two unions, and has been a flashpoint for the last five years. The issue exploded into public view with an unusual set of dueling articles in the two unions’ magazines that appeared, inopportunely, in fall 2007, while the WGA strike was in full swing and the two actors’ unions were preparing for their own joint negotiations with the studios.

Hostilities escalated over the next several months, ultimately leading to a breakdown of joint bargaining. AFTRA reached agreement on a renewal of its studio deal before the June 30, 2008, expiration, while SAG didn’t conclude and ratify a successor agreement until almost twelve months later.

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Twitter: @jhandel

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