The Revenge Of Mallory Keaton?

In the roughly 100 hours since the announced end of our long national nightmare–aka the SAG-AFTRA strike, the reaction of the majority of the rank and file, trade and mainstream press and most of anyone who consumes content has been positively ecstatic.  And why not?  After the disastorous box office results of the first week of this month, the disastorous earnings calls of many of the studios and streamers who valiantly tried to put their best spin on things in the ensuing days, and a holiday season where the mere possibility of affording decorations was potentially beyond the reach of quite a bit of those so deeply impacted by the prior 118 days, kudos were in order and relief was rampant.   Yesterday alone, there was a flurry of activity that gave details about Emmy nominations (it’s January 15th on FOX), original scripted episodes on CBS (shocker: they start to roll out right after the Super Bowl) and blue carpet premieres that, at least according to what a beaming Ted Sarandos told the fawning press at the opportunistically scheduled celebration of the premiere of THE CROWN’s final season, was his first time out on the town in many months.  I, for one, would have challenged him on that; even the guy who essentially invented Netflix and chill can’t be THAT much of a homebody.

And amidst all of this jubilation, SAG-AFTRA president Fran Drescher and her Sancho Panza Duncan Crabtree-Ireland have been taking victory laps aplenty.  Drescher’s Zen-like tenacity, her resolve amidst the more recent hues and cries of some more successful members for a quicker settlement, and her willingness to stare down the Gang of Four leading the AMPTP negotiations with a stuffed animal at her side has been lauded and applauded by almost every union member and solidarist I know, and there are plenty of them in my social media feeds.  And, for the most part, I’m in lockstep with them.  I’m not alive if it’s not for folks like this, and I want them to work almost as badly as I want myself to.

Which is why I was kind of disappointed in how defensive Drescher came off in articles yesterday that served as her response to the concerns raised on social media over the weekend by Justine Bateman.  Here’s how DEADLINE’s astute Dominic Patten reported it:

Fran Drescher may have injected some Buddhism into SAG-AFTRA’s online meeting today on the new tentative agreement with the studios, but there was almost nothing monastic about the guild president’s opinion of critics of the November 8 deal.  

“I just want you to know that nobody was thrown under the bus,” Drescher told a self-described Official Member Informational Meeting on Zoom this morning of less-than-stellar assessments of the agreement that SAG-AFTRA and the AMPTP reached last week after a 118 days strike that shut Hollywood down for months.

If you read things like that, it’s very inflammatory and unfortunate because it’s using social media and chat rooms to advance someone’s personal agenda,” the recently overwhelmingly re-elected SAG-AFTRA president add, stressing she wasn’t “going to name names” Monday.

Still, while not mentioning the likes of Justine Bateman, it was pretty clear who Drescher was referring to in the virtual meeting. Decrying “naysayers” and “low-level people who are buzzing,” the union chief addressed the dozens and dozens of members on the Zoom with a hard swipe at “principled people who will vote over one issue or kill an entire deal that benefits so many because of one issue that was not obtained — and I implore you to not think that way.”

Thanks to the continuing popularity and pop culture kitchiness of her 90s series THE NANNY, let alone her unique vocal and physical talents, Drescher’s arguably as familiar to union members of any age as anyone.  Bateman, unless you’re of a certain age, is much less celebrated today.  But a decade before Drescher’s breakout, she was part of the cast of the NBC hit series FAMILY TIES.  In a generation where young celebrity was demonstrated by articles in Tiger Beat rather than Tik Tok views, she was at least part of the Gen X narrative.   At its peak as the lead-out to the COSBY SHOW, FAMILY TIES was reaching nearly one-third of ALL U.S. TV households.

Except Bateman was never quite in a place where she was leading any narrative.  She wasn’t the most popular member of FAMILY TIES’ Keaton family; as the  middle sister, she was frequently the foil for breakout star Michael J. Fox’s snarky dismissiveness.  Plus, her character seemed to make poor choices in boyfriends.   In ensuing years, she wasn’t even the most celebrated Bateman, as younger brother Jason broke out on ARRESTED DEVELOPMENT, one of the first sitcoms to take advantage of Netflix ubiquitousness to merit a revival.

But just as her Mallory character was a lot smarter than first blush observation would suggest, her concerns and observations about the details of the SAG-AFTRA agreement that she shared over the weekend come from a place of intelligence and experience that would strongly support that they are coming from anyone ither than a “low-level naysayer”.

As ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY’s Dylan Kickham wrote:

In her 40s, Justine attended UCLA and majored in digital media management and computer science. She often speaks publicly in support of net neutrality and published a shockingly frank book about growing up famous.

And as Wikipedia adds:

She served on the national board of directors of the Screen Actors Guild until July 2009, when she resigned just before the end of her initial three-year term.[27][28]

So, sorry, Bateman is far from a disinterested, low-level, Mallory type in this case.  Which is why the concerns she raised in a HOLLYWOOD REPORTER article dropped over the weekend by Carly Thomas are more than worth your time to consider:

The actress-writer-filmmaker told MSNBC’s Ali Velshi on Friday that actors should approve the deal only “if they don’t want to work anymore. If they want to be replaced by synthetic objects that are made by generative AI, why not?”

Velshi went on to reference a recent story from The Hollywood Reporter where DreamWorks founder Jeffrey Katzenberg predicts that AI will drastically cut the number of workers it takes to make animated films.

In response, Bateman, who served as a union advisor for generative AI, said she feels studio executives “are choosing to no longer be in the film and series business.”

“I think they sort of like to think of themselves as being tech barons themselves or something. But this, doing projects that don’t involve humans … you’re not in the film business anymore,” she added. “People who don’t want to have any human involved have never really been on a set. They don’t know what it’s like to make a film.”

And if you think it’s much ado about nothing for someone to be concerned about what Katzenberg’s vision for the future of production might be, you probably have already forgotten about how his insistence that Quibi continue to be “quick bites” even as the pandemic made any appetite for small-screen consumption an afterthought cost investors and creators billions in cash and thousands of lost opportunities.

The concerns she expressed on social media as Thomas described it are also worth time and effort to ponder:

Following her discussion on MSNBC, Bateman took to X (formerly Twitter) early Saturday to say that she plans to read the actual contract and not the summary so she can explain “the violating [AI] permissions the AMPTP will have over you. I’m very disappointed that the SAG leadership and committee did not take my guidance on the [AI] issues.”

She added in her thread, “I’ve said from the beginning that the use of generative [AI] will collapse the structure of this business. I want the actors and crew to have enough self-respect to turn over a table and flip the CEOs off as it happens. They’re going to leave you with nothing left to lose.”

Later in the day, Bateman shared another thread on X to make actors “aware of some of the language in the [AI] portion of the tentative SAG agreement.” After listing several points, she noted what she called “the most serious issue of them,” which is the “inclusion in the agreement of ‘Synthetic Performers,’ or ‘AI Objects,’ resembling humans. This gives the studios/streamers a green-light to use human-looking AI Objects instead of hiring a human actor.”

I’ve read and heard quite a bit on these issues.  I know darn well where Drescher comes from; as you know, I come from the same world.  I had to research Bateman’s history.  She shares quite a bit of it in her transparent 2018 book FAME: THE HIJACKING OF REALITY.  Even a sample of it is a compelling read.  Yes, she was famous and, one would hope, rich well before Drescher became both.  But that early fame cost her; as Wikipedia relates, Bateman could not attend college at the time due to her contractual obligations with Family Ties. Bateman stated that she was informed by the series’ line producer Carol Himes, “You’re under contract to Paramount Studios.”[6].  

To me, that certainly makes her desire for her degree and the clear knowledge she picked up with her pursuit and subsequent behind-the-scenes work much more than a mere mid-life crisis.  And her background with SAG certainly gives her the ability to grasp and comprehend details that, frankly, might even be beyond Drescher’s knowledge base.  Not to mention the press that has elevated her to the level of union leader celebration typically reserved for Eugene V. Debs, or at least Norma Rae.

I, for one, want to see the details, though I have no vote in this myself.   But as Patten noted, a sizable number of those that do now apparently want to as well:

On November 10, a SAG-AFTRA National Board meeting went much longer than anticipated as debate over the deal raged behind closed doors. In the end, Drescher and chief negotiator Duncan Crabtree-Ireland emerged late Friday afternoon to reveal that nearly 14% of the board had voted against taking the deal to the general membership for ratification — a stark contrast to the uniformity DGA and WGA leaders brought to the equivalent votes earlier this year.

You know how I feel about people having the right to be heard.  I’ve made my views on how frustrating it is to see the Democratic party dismiss legitimate polls and objective focus groups as disruptive and party-pooping.  Ramrodding information down anyone’s throat as being good for you because they think they know more than you do. or believe you’re not in any position to debate it,  is not a narrative I respond to.

I expected more from Drescher.  Particularly since she was so damn resolved in her pleas for patience and respect as studio and streamer mismanagement dismissed and tried to intimidate her.

Bateman deserves the same level of respect.  Perhaps even a bit more.

If the deal is so great, then let the details out already.  Suggesting we read a narrative from a PUCK reporter isn’t enough.  Any site that has an opportunity for revenue from studios now finally able to spend against the emotional pursuit of awards can’t be summarily seen as fully objective.

We read the Warren Commission findings.  We read the Pentagon Papers.  We read the Muller Report.   We should be able to handle more than an 18-page dumbing down.  And we should be able to have a thicker skin about those who may have concerns, Fran.

Let your members have the chance to read it.  Answer their questions.  Explain the tradeoffs with more than just defensiveness and name-calling.  That atttiude may have worked when trying to keep someone from cutting in line at the Moo and Brew on Main Street.  It doesn’t necessarily work all that well in Hollywood.  Believe me, I know.

I want to know what Mallory Keaton thinks.  Heck, I want to know what Jennifer and Andy Keaton think.  Even though they apparently haven’t aged all that well.

I hope you still do too, Fran.   We all deserve to be heard.

Until next time…

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