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TV Studios Shift to AFTRA

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LOS ANGELES A switch in actor union representation on broadcast TV from the Screen Actors Guild to the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists is shifting into high gear in light of the protracted contract negotiations between SAG and the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers and the threatened SAG strike.

To protect pilots that would be affected by a SAG walkout, the major TV studios are looking to produce many or all of them under AFTRA.

"With all the uncertainty surrounding the stalled negotiations with SAG, 20th TV is considering shooting its spring pilots under the AFTRA agreement," the studio said Tuesday.

20th already produced two of its mid-season pilots, the Fox comedy Boldly Going Nowhere and ABC half-hour "Better Off Ted," with AFTRA talent.

Warner Bros. TV issued a similar statement: "In response to the uncertainties created by a potential SAG strike, WBTV is also considering all of its options, including those involving digital productions done under AFTRA agreements."

Under the current rules, pilots and series shot on film (in other words, most TV dramas) are covered by SAG. Shows shot on digital video, including most cable series and some broadcast comedies, come under AFTRA jurisdiction.

ABC Studios is also seeking to do more pilots under AFTRA. The studio has two new AFTRA-repped broadcast projects this year, the comedy Gary Unmarried for CBS and the straight-to-series ABC comedy In the Motherhood.

UMS also is quietly shifting, with at least two NBC pilots this fall -- the single-camera comedy Off Duty and the drama Lost & Found -- filmed under AFTRA.

Sony TV traditionally has worked almost exclusively with AFTRA; it did so on its Fox pilot Eva Adams and upcoming ABC series The Unusuals.

Switching would generally increase expenses for studios, since they would work under AFTRA's new contract with the AMPTP. SAG actors continue to work under terms of the guild's labor contract that expired June 30.

A switch to AFTRA only affects new pilots and series, with all existing shows staying under their current union representation according to AFL-CIO rules.

The issue was turned into ammunition in the SAG-AMPTP war Tuesday when 20th TV said it was "exploring every option, including transitioning shows from SAG to AFTRA."

For once, the feuding SAG and AFTRA agreed and issued statements calling such a switch illegal. 20th TV later said that changing existing series' union representation is no longer an option.

In another sign of the uncertain economic times, 20th has become the second TV studio to ask show runners to cut 2 percent of their production budgets.

"Everyone understands that revenues are down and these steps are necessary to protect our business," the studio said.

WBTV is said to be mulling a similar cost-cutting measure that had already been implemented by ABC Studios.