Hollywood Deathwatch

This weekend's fire on the Universal Studios back lot only added literally and figuratively to the pall hanging over Hollywood. Out here we're all on a hard countdown to a potential June 30 work stoppage by the Screen Actors Guild, the trade organization that represents about 120,000 actors. Some of them actually working actors! This, of course, has got everybody in a funk.

The town still hasn't recovered from the ill-conceived 100-day writers' strike. There was a shortened regular broadcast television season. No pilot season. And the creeping hegemony of reality TV continues, which means fewer jobs for traditional craftspersons. Network television viewership sank about 15 percent, and there's already a de facto movie strike happening. Studios aren't green-lighting any new films until the actors' contract situation is resolved.

The fact that AFTRA — the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists, a smaller guild that reps about 40,000 actors — was able to hammer out a new contract with the producers in the last two weeks doesn't offer much sunshine. There's some bad blood and bruised egos between SAG and AFTRA, and the fear is AFTRA's public display of lucidity will make SAG all the more recalcitrant.

However, with both AFTRA and the DGA — the Directors Guild of America — demonstrating through their successful contract negotiations that reasonable people can come to sensible conclusions, there's hope that the leadership of SAG can act the part of adults and actually negotiate a deal.

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