So it was only Thursday the 13th, but it was nevertheless a very unfortunate as well as the first truly hot day of the year. SAG-AFTRA indeed struck despite aribitration efforts, and in a lunchtime press conference union president Fran Drescher took to the airwaves and delivered one of the most mspiring and passionate extemporaneous speeches of any union leader since Eugene V. Debs and a hell of a lot more connecting than any speech of more recent that came out of the mouth of someone who claims the title of president and hails from my home borough.
As DEADLINE’s Bruce Haring reported, Drescher’s signature Noo Yawk accent never sounded better nor more powerful than it did, and the performance she delivered was far more memorable than anything she did as THE NANNY, certainly the afterthought final season:
The Nanny star said that she was “shocked” by the way that studio execs are treating actors. “I cannot believe it, quite frankly, how far apart we are on so many things. It is disgusting. Shame on them. They stand on the wrong side of history.”
She added that actors can’t keep being “marginalized, disrespected, and dishonored” by a business model that has been changed by streaming. “If we don’t stand tall right now, we are all going to be in trouble. We are all going to be in jeopardy of being replaced by machines and big business,” she added.
A speech so inspiring, in fact, that on dozens of social media sites I subscribe to the stunning headshots or iconic screenshots that its devoted members and supporters otherwise would use were replaced by the “SAG-AFTRA STRONG” jpeg that it appears the union is encouraging utility of. One can only hope they become more prolific than MAGA caps.
So it will likely be some darn crowded picket lines awaiting people near the homes of AMPTP membership studios and platforms today. I live within walking distance of two and not far from a third, so you best believe I’ll find my way to their vicinity at some point. More than ever, I want to show my support, and now that the actors and performers are joining the writers the likelihood I’ll be offered a cold beverage of some quality is likely to be enhanced.
But all kidding aside, I”m really inspired by the call to arms of my fellow Mauzone’s chicken fan, a far more impactful sound bite than the one that Disney chief Bob Iger began the day with. In a lengthy interview on CNBC’s SQUAWK BOX from the private Idaho of the Allen and Company investment conference Iger attempted his own rallying cry for his peers and essentially lit the dynamite which Drescher inspired her membership to throw right back at them. As Lillian Rizzo reported:
“After coming back, I realized the company is facing a lot of challenges, some of them self inflicted,” Iger told CNBC’s Faber on Thursday, noting he’s accomplished a lot of work in seven months but there’s more to be done.”
At the top of the list is assessing the traditional TV business, Iger said on Thursday. Disney owns a portfolio of TV networks, from broadcast station ABC to cable-TV channels like ESPN.
Disney is going to be “expansive” in its thinking about the traditional TV business, leaving the door open to a possible sale of the networks. “They may not be core to Disney,” Iger said, adding the creativity that has come from those networks has been core to Disney.
And this was a de facto victory lap for Iger, who the previous day received a two-year extension to his return engagement to try and finish his cleanup project, which, to his credit, he at least tacitly acknowledges were his doing. He is indeed being rewarded, to the tune of a minimum of $54 million, for overseeing a series of decisions that has resulted in nearly a billion dollars in losses attached to expensive missteps such as the acquistion of the FOX entertainment assets, decisions to double and triple down on franchises like INDIANA JONES and the nether reaches of the MCU with the simplistic belief that marketing pre-existing franchises was easier to sell to a hungry and indiscriminate public than something original and all but handicap writers looking to make their own mark into being forced to adapt to these fast-food like opportunities, and then have the audacity to penalize them by taking advantage of economic loopholes to all but wipe their mistakes off the face of the earth, or at least his platforms. And send hundreds of otherwise capable executives to the unemployment line as a way to curry favor with the Wall Street that actually is encouraging the kind of tough guy attitudes which he, David Zaslav Tim Cook, Ted Sarandos and Andy Jassy. among others, are showing.
So while it’s understandable that Iger has replaced Yosemite as the face on the pub dartboard of creatives’ watering holes or wet bars, consider that Iger’s timing for this response was more aligned with the 2Q23 earnings call which the Street is awaiting details on next week. All Iger was doing was essentially doing his own promo tour, and now that the union has announced they will not allow its members to do same to support next week’s Barbenheimer premieres or events at Comic-Con or FYC events to curry Emmy voters as they otherwise would in the non-COVID summer months, something’s gonna fill the news void. In effect, he’s just doing the job he was hired to do, just like actors and writers would like to.
But may I please offer my inspiring Hillcrest High School alum and her membership that when you start tossing out solutions like Parrot Analytics data and try and buy their line of sh-t that data that shows a desire to watch something is as meaningful as an actual viewing experience, and you somehow forget than any business that tried to justify its bottom line on browsing rather than purchasing would be in even more dire shape that the Orwellian picture Iger painted makes you look far less informed and an alliance worthy of sitting down at the bargaining table any more expeditously than the timetable of those who would prefer to let creatives twist in the wind until they go begging for mercy.
So let me please offer up these suggestions:
— Use your social media power to urge people not to attend the first weekends of these upcoming movies, and to avoid watching any TV series involving writers until the AMPTP at least offers to actually sit down, and this time, not with the crutch of federal arbitrators. The only language Wall Street understands is box office returns and ratings, or lack thereof. Technology and the broken business model assures that there will plenty of time down the road to actually see these fine works. How many shows and films from the last couple of years are still on your checklist for “I’ll get around to it”. They’ll keep. It’s more essential now for Wall Street to see that films that aren’t publicized with human actors’ promotion aren’t going to deliver the bottom line results Wall Street seems to covet.
— I strongly encourage you to read the ever-impressive Rick Scott of TOO MUCH TV, who gained access to an internal memo from some mid-level Netflix executives he personally knows that included several exceptionally good ideas. As Scott reported yesterday in his TV TALKING POINTS e-mail, while some of the suggestions put forth by these mid-level executives may have been somewhat naive and they were too far down the food chain to have any real hope of being adopted, there are plenty of sound ideas involving real metrics and a reward system based upon them, as well as some thoughts on how Netflix could conceivably use their more unique status to go rouge on their legacy competitors and potentially inflict pain on the kind of efforts that Zaslav, Iger and Chris McCarthy have recently employed–again, ones that current Wall Street laws reward–to eviscerate less successful works from any sort of appreciation. Scott readily admits that this falls into the category of “what might have been”. I’d encourage you to try and resuscitate some of the better thoughts expressed therein, and potentially garner public support for them, rather than spend one more second on anything with the word Parrot in it.
— Ensure that your more successful members make good on protecting their most vulnerable members who actually are already losing their homes or experincing truly compromised lifestyles. No, I don’t mean people missing payments on their Teslas or downgrading their kids to public schools. No, tell the story of actors who now have to take rideshare jobs or security detail work just to pay their rent. Tell the stories of the ancillary union workers who with Hollywood effectively shut down won’t be able to feed their families. To replace the endless cycle of now-moot FYC events and premieres, stage rallies and fund-raisers open to the public. Livestream them on non-AMPTP affiliated platforms to increase your reach beyond just the TMZ. Use those contributions as well as the largesse of some of your more public-facing members to set up funds that will mirror the kind of help that the government gave all of us during the early days of the pandemic. Put on the back burner your personal quest for trophies. Make certain that contrary to the views expressed in Monday’s VARIETY! article that some are snarking was a planted exaggeration from your union members is backed up with concrete evidence of actual people. You know how to tell stories powerfully. You’re doing a really good job at writing some really clever picket signs. Expand your creativity and your audience.
— Lastly, quantify and measure the actual impact of what you may be doing. If politically aligned websites can figure out what the costs of production and marketing flops are in order to advance the narrative that “woke” casting and “non-populist” inclusion made Disney a viable target for the likes of Ron DeSanctimonious, you can use the same kind of resourceful post-mortem to remind anyone you have access to–including, I dare say, some of those who may actually be already consuming some of the pro-right misinformation–exactly how self-inflicting and destructive to hard-working dues-paying rank and file people like you the attitude that Iger and company are taking are directly affecting the availability of content they DO want to watch. Remember, family-friendly movies and TV shows that don’t insist on pronoun clarifications aren’t gonna be made any time soon, either. Put your own political views aside. There is more of a common ground and interest with people that ultimately consume and enjoy many of your works than you might be inclined to think. And if you can somehow get the attention of politicians on both sides of the aisle, you’ll be achieving miraculous progress than even the AMPTP won’t be able to ignore. Start a weekly, if not daily, newsletter or podcast that updates your impact, while telling those stories in a way only you, and not generative AI, could.
And if you want to use my voice or talents as part of it, including compiling the data that you need to really matter, I’m jumping up and down with desire. I know my skill sets are far less desirable in front of the camera. On the other hand, I have the same accent and slightly less nasality as Drescher, and you seem to really like that these days.
See you on the picket lines. Save me a cold water?
Until next time…