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These Days, an Actor's Main Squeeze Is Wage Compression

Espresso3   Today's term, boys and girls, is "wage compression," and some stories in Variety and THR today help illustrate the point. This is particularly frustrating to workaday actors.

For actors, wage compression can take several forms. Variety has a story today about the studios rethinking the ways they produce pilots. Gary Newman, of 20th Century Fox TV, told Michael Schneider the economy is forcing tough choices: "Where do you put your money? Is it in the cast? The special effects? The locations?" Newman asked. "A few years ago, you aggressively pursued every aspect of these pilots to their full extent. Those days are over."

If a "pricey star" is added, Schneider wrote, then something else will have to be cut. Salaries for co-stars, recurrings, and day-players are likely targets, which is why established-but-not-star actors haven't been getting their quotes for a while now and instead are receiving scale-plus-10. Then again, without the star, the show might never get picked up, so going to work for the minimum can sometimes be better than staying at home with your quote. The trouble is, when everybody chooses the former option, quotes disappear. (This subject is touched on this week in Back Stage's news analysis, wherein we speak with two talent reps -- on the record -- about the state of SAG and other Hollywood issues.)

Wage compression is likely to surface throughout the month during negotiations between SAG-AFTRA and the advertisers. Esteemed colleague Jay A. Fernandez at THR yesterday had a good analysis on the talks. The actors unions are asking for a 6-percent wage hike each year for three years. The advertisers and advertising agencies, repped by the Joint Policy Committee, will seek a profound restructuring of the way actors are paid. They want the payments based on gross ratings points, meaning, roughly, that actors' residuals will be determined by the actual number of people who watch individual ads, rather than estimates determined by the Nielsen (hi, Mom!) ratings during sweeps months (February, May, July, November), when ad rates are typically set.

This likely would mean a reduction in the most lucrative portion of the contract--network broadcast ads, known as Class A--and perhaps substantial increases in the amount of residuals paid for ads on cable and the Web. But here's the thing: Suggesting a reduction in Class A payments is almostexactly like politicians suggesting cuts in Social Security. It makes the people crazy.

But a more serious issue concerns the total value of the contract. It is currently worth about $900 million and advertisers are intent on keeping it the same. The last time the contract was negotiated--a 2-year extension in 2006--$900 mil had the buying power of $961,174,107.14 in 2008 money, according to the most excellent website MeasuringWorth.com. If the total value of the contract stays at about $900 million, it's real value will be 6.8 percent less. This is probably why actors are asking for a 6 percent raise each year, hoping to meet somewhere near the middle, at 3.3 percent each year, which is where the TV/film contract (remember that thing?) will land, assuming it ever gets negotiated.

MollyFlushSince we're talking about wage squeeze, there's a "Don't Squeeze the Charmin" joke in here somewhere, seeing as how Charmin is a Procter & Gamble product and P&G is the nation's largest advertiser. However, I will leave it for others to find. Enter your response in the comments field below, and the winner receives, from me, $2.32, which is what a dime was worth in 1837, the year Procter & Gamble was founded. Make sure to leave your email address so I know how to get in touch with you.

THE BEST OF THE REST

* ArtsJournal.com today points us to a story today about Baltimore Theatre Project, and how a modest reduction in state funding (from $14,000 to $12,000) could mean the end.

* Variety tells us of the new Fox Web portal FlopTV.com, which will bow in Italy. Among their original content: A comedy spoof of ER. How, exactly, do you say "trauma one," "code blue," and "I would go out with you if only I could find the time between my solipsistic whining and/or on-again-off-again alcoholism" in Italian?

* Esteemed THR colleague Nellie Andreeva has two stories for us: Her as-always-excellent daily pilot rundown (remake of Melrose Place? How old am I?) and the news that agent Alan Braun is moving to CAA.

FROM THE MAIL BAG

* This month's Manhattan Monologue Slam is tomorrow night, Wednesday, Feb. 25, at its new venue, the 92nd Street Y Tribeca (200 Hudson St @ Canal); 6:30 doors, 7:30 curtain. Judges: Kangol Kid, Lisa Gold, Robert Russell, Valerie Smaldone, and Tim Walsh. Admission is $15, but if you go the website you can get a reduced-price ticket for $10.

* Brian D'Arcy James is currently starring as the flatulent, green, singing ogre on Broadway. Tomorrow night he will appear at Planet Hollywood Times Square, (Broadway and 45th Street) at 6:30 p.m. The 100th person to enter Planet Hollywood gets two free tickets to Shrek. James will be there to donate memorabilia and have his handprints captured in cement. 

--Andrew Salomon

For the latest SAG drama and union news, go to Strike Watch.

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