I’ve had a little time to digest some of the spirit and energy I saw first-hand on the now joint picket lines of SAG-AFTRA and WGA on Friday. I listened intensely as an actor, being interviewed at length by an outstanding entertainment news reporter I happened to run into chronicle in detail one particular issue that has inflamed them. The AMPTP’s desire to pay background actors exactly once for their services, digitally capture their images and then reserve the right in perpetuity to utilize them, therefore denying these talents the chance to earn a day rate, more than once for a particular project or producer.
The actor, whose voice began to shake as he attempted to describe the issue to the intrepid journalist, explained: “SAG-AFTRA requires that a member earn a minimum of $27,000 a year (actually, per the union’s website, the actual key line is: You must earn at least $26,470 in Covered Earnings in your Base Earnings Period to receive Earned Eligibility for Active Plan health coverage.). Those day rate gigs are not only what folks like myself need to earn for basic needs, but they also contribute quite a bit toward that minimum. We can go weeks without being cast in something of consequence. We’re not fighting just to keep our homes. We’re fighting to be able to see a doctor”.
When it became amplified by the details being provided in union narratives throughout the day that barely one in ten current SAG-AFTRA members make enough now to qualify, and that some fine print on their website reminds: Note: In future years, these minimum earnings requirements may increase. If so, the number of days required for Alternative Days Eligibility will be increased proportionately, it becomes pretty apparent that a sizable percentage of the roughly 16,000 hard-working talents who actually do qualify will now also lose out.
Knowing this, it becomes far easier to grasp why as the chiding, lecturing remarks of Disney chairman Bob Iger, delivered to a fawning CNBC reporter on the same morning that they enacted a decision that 97% of them had already authoritzed to fight for their right to earn a living have struck such a nerve, not just with their fiery leader Fran Drescher but with the rank and file that turned out in drove at almost every production facility of consequence in Los Angeles and New York.
The actor wstuck around to chat with me. I asked him to try and forgive me, I was a studio “suit” for years, but I’m there in solidarity (and, yes, I did accept the delicious home-baked oat cookie I was offered when I picked up a sign). The first question out of his mouth was “did you hear what Iger said this morning?!?!”. I explained that I saw he and his peers simply as faces of a system that is subservient to their boards and investors and contains numerous financial loopoholes and incentives to reward their companies for the kind of writeoffs and layoffs that they are more than ever choosing to take advantage of to meet their goals. We also talked about the report from earlier in the week (Dominic Patten’s DEADLINE exclusive) which included these memorable grafs:
“I think we’re in for a long strike, and they’re going to let it bleed out,” said one industry veteran intimate with the POV of studio CEOs. “The endgame is to allow things to drag on until union members start losing their apartments and losing their houses,” a studio executive told Deadline. Acknowledging the cold-as-ice approach, several other sources reiterated the statement.
“Yeah, I heard that quote came directly from Bob Iger”, said my actor friend. “You must know him. Would you be surprised if that was the case?”
Actually, I don’t know Iger that well, though I do know plenty of people who do. The Bob Iger they knew was an instinctive, hard-driving leader who loved to encourage creative efforts. One of my staffers who knew him from ABC played tennis with him on weekends at his home. When he confessed to Iger he was far more interested in pursuing a writing career, Iger not only encouraged him to pursue his dream, but personally made a few phone calls to help set up meetings with department heads. When he resigned from my team, I was disappointed but ecstatic. He and his writing partner have now entered their fourth successful decade as top-flight talents on numerous sitcoms.
So based on that, I was initially reluctant to attribute something that heinous to him, even amidst his tone-deaf teaser for the earnings call he will deliver later this week that will reflect some of the savings he was able to elicit by dropping shows from Disney+ and ending the ESPN careers of the likes of Ashley Brewer, who is now off on her honeymoon. And then it hit me–what if who is really running Disney ISN’T Bob Iger?
In that CNBC interview, the person interviewed all but put a for-sale sign up in front of his linear television networks, including the ABC he rose through the ranks of long before Mickey Mouse became its business daddy. The ABC he helped make number one in sports and entertainment and even a leading destination for younger adults well into the 2010s. What will ABC in the fall of 2023 look like? A fourth-place broadcaster where the only content fully produced and owned by his company will consist of library product to compete with Sunday Night Football and series produced by its news divisions. Not a single entertainment series will come from a company owned by Disney.
So when one considers that probably a more upbeat performance of his came in a cameo during Apple’s product launch video for its fall where he enthusiastically touted the potential of its $3499 Vision Pro, where it was envisioned that a viewer to ESPN could immerse themselves in a world that felt like a courtside seat at the NBA Finals, and you’re reminded of the fact he was a member of Apple’s board until he resigned in 2019 when Disney+ was launched, and I’m of the belief that not only is a sale of at least those networks, if not Disney itself, has already been agreed upon in principle, but that Apple’s technology has lined up his successor with something more suited to the role they envisiom will be necesaary
Call him Bob AIger.