'Civil War' between Actors and Ad Industry Fades into the History Books: Susan Shelley

By Shelley, Susan | Daily News (Los Angeles, CA), April 5, 2016 | Go to article overview

'Civil War' between Actors and Ad Industry Fades into the History Books: Susan Shelley


Shelley, Susan, Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)


Motion picture director Billy Wilder was once asked whether he would ever again hire Marilyn Monroe, who was routinely late to the set.

"I have an aunt who's always on time," Wilder answered, "but nobody would pay a nickel to see her."

That tells you a lot about the business of acting. The ultimate judge of the work is the audience, not the employer.

This week, something interesting didn't happen. The actors' union --Screen Actors Guild-American Federation of Television and Radio Artists -- did not go on strike.

Instead, SAG-AFTRA reached a tentative agreement with the advertising industry for a new three-year commercials contract.

"The success of this negotiation," said the ad industry's chief negotiator, Douglas Wood, "reflects the sense of partnership the JPC and SAG-AFTRA have built over the past fifteen years."

What happened fifteen years ago? The JPC -- Joint Policy Committee of the Association of National Advertisers (ANA) and the American Association of Advertising Agencies (AAAA) -- tried to break one of SAG-AFTRA's most lucrative contracts by changing how actors are paid for commercials on network television.

Maybe you would have bet that national advertisers -- big, powerful companies -- would easily win a fight against actors. You'd have lost that bet.

The commercials contract was born in 1953 after a three-month strike by the Screen Actors Guild. Under the agreement, actors would be paid a "session fee" for each commercial they made, and they'd also receive payments for use of the commercial based on the number and size of cities in which it aired, for as long as it aired.

At that time, TV networks led the bargaining on the management side because they sold entire programs to one sponsor. When TV advertising became more like magazine advertising, with different sponsors throughout a program, the lead role in bargaining fell to advertising agencies.

But high costs began to cause friction between the agencies and their clients. In 1976, an advertising expert named Arthur Bellaire published a book called "Controlling Your TV Commercial Costs." Edward G. O'Neill, an executive with the nation's biggest TV advertiser, Procter & Gamble, wrote the foreword for the book and made sure it was widely read by other advertisers. The chapter on talent payments was titled, "The Cost that Never Stops."

By 1978, when negotiations began for the new SAG-AFTRA contract, the actors' unions found themselves across the table from the newly created Joint Policy Committee of the ANA and AAAA. …

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