Already nastier than a Liz Hurley-Anna Kournikova slapfight, the three-month-old commercial actors’ strike keeps getting uglier by the day.
First it was the actors charging that the advertisers were all a bunch of Warbucksian greedheads, unwilling to share their accumulating millions during an era of unprecedented prosperity. Then it was the advertisers calling the actors a bunch of ungrateful whiners who wouldn’t know a good deal if it marched up and offered them a speaking part in a Whaasssup ! Budweiser commercial.
Now charging into this dirty fray comes silver-haired New York City Council Speaker Peter Vallone, who this week called for a complete shutdown of commercial production on city property for the length of the strike. The commercial ban–set to be proposed before the council on Thursday, June 27–is intended to show solidarity with the striking actors, said Mr. Vallone’s spokesperson, Jordan Barowitz.
“It’s very similar to the action taken by the city council in Los Angeles and also Chicago, which is to urge the mayor to prohibit the use of city property for the production of television and radio commercials until the dispute is resolved,” Mr. Barowitz said. “This [resolution] is in an effort to bring the strike to a conclusion.”
Mr. Barowitz said that Mr. Vallone met with members of the two striking actors’ unions, the Screen Actors Guild (SAG) and the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists (AFTRA), early in the strike, which began on May 1. Actors are angered that advertisers want to eliminate the old system of residual payments for commercials run on broadcast TV–called “pay-for-play”–with a flat-fee system. Advertisers respond that the pay-for-play system is outdated, contending that in the cable television and Internet universe there are many more moneymaking opportunities for actors.
Mr. Vallone, who is a likely Mayoral candidate next year, sided with the thespians. “It touched a chord with him–he thought it was unfair,” Mr. Barowitz.
For it to become official, Mr. Vallone’s resolution would require public hearings and the approval of a City Council committee–possibly the civil service and labor committee, Mr. Barowitz said–as well as the approval of the full council.
If passed by the City Council, the resolution would move on to Mayor Rudolph Giuliani, who, if he desired to, could prohibit commercial work from being filmed on city property. Of course, Mr. Giuliani could do that now without the resolution, Mr. Barowitz said, but since he hasn’t, Mr. Vallone’s resolution is intended to prod him.
The resolution was heartily cheered this week at SAG headquarters.
“It’s a sign that we’re not alone in this struggle, and that in addition to our support from the A.F.L.-C.I.O. and sister unions, we’re also getting some recognition and support from elected officials as well,” said Brice Peyre, SAG’s spokesman. “It’s something we’re encouraged by.”
But Mr. Vallone’s resolution elicited snickers and howls from advertising industry representatives, who described the commercial ban proposal as wrong-headed and questioned its legality.
“I think it’s a resolution based on ignorance of the situation,” said Matt Miller, president of the New York-based Association of Independent Commercial Producers. “I believe that the Speaker thinks this is probably in favor of the working people in the industry, and the reality of this situation is that for every actor, there are 50 crew members who work in commercials.” Those people, Mr. Miller said, would be hurt just as much by the work stoppage as actors.
Ira Shepard, counsel to the Joint Policy Committee on Broadcast Talent Union Relations, which represents two of the nation’s largest advertising associations, argued that Mr. Vallone’s resolution violated a federal law preventing municipalities from taking actions that could interfere with private labor disputes.
“It’s blatantly illegal,” Mr. Shepard said. “He can’t do it. I mean, he can do it, but it’s prohibited by federal law–it’s pre-empted by the National Labor Relations Act.”
Mr. Shepard also joined Mr. Miller in emphasizing that the city’s commercial advertising community is far broader than just its striking union actors. “New York City is the center of the advertising industry,” Mr. Shepard said. “Madison Avenue is Madison Avenue for one reason and one reason alone, and for him to consider such a thing is a slap in the face to thousands of New Yorkers that make a living in that industry.”
Okay, fellas, break it up! Why don’t we put those actors and advertisers on a desert island and have them sort it out? Tonight on CBS, Survivor . [WCBS, 2, 8 p.m.]
Thursday, July 27
So far, the big TV story about the upcoming political conventions is supposed to be that there isn’t going to be any big TV story. With the conventions amounting to little more than gazillion-dollar coronations for Messrs. Bush and Gore, the consensus is that the events will lack the essential, compelling dramatic nutrients found in other prime-time offerings like Nash Bridges or Daddio . As a result, grumpy columnists, wistful for the days when these conventions had attention and drama–and they had bigger hotel rooms and expense accounts–have chewed up a slice of Pacific Northwest forest griping about the so-called Death of Conventions on TV.
Whatever . While it’s true that the broadcast networks are backing off the convention coverage–NBC is running only two-and-a-half hours’ worth, roughly the amount of time it’s devoting each week to promoting its upcoming Aaron Spelling drama, Titans –you aren’t going to be starved for TV political fun. In fact, among the networks, the cable outlets and that gosh-dang Internet contraption, it can be argued that there’s more convention coverage than ever before. CNN, Fox News and MSNBC will be going completely nuts with gavel-to-gavel convention coverage, as will C-SPAN and PBS. What’s more, Comedy Central will be playing Philly for yuks, and MTV will dispatch a street team of hipsters and to-be-named musical stars. And thanks to the Web and a partnership with Internet news portal Pseudo.com, even us faces-for-radio types at The Observer will be piping out convention TV fare on a regular basis. So quit yer convention whinin’.
Tonight on CNBC, Hardball with Chris Matthews . Bet he’s talking about the convention, too! See ? [CNBC, 15, 8 p.m.]
Friday, July 28
Hey, if you think that Pennsylvania Congressman and House Transportation and Infrastructure Subcommittee member Don Sherwood is going to be the only big-name celebrity mingling among the masses at the G.O.P. convention, have we got news for you! Also planning to attend: Joe Piscopo!
The New Jersey resident and former comedian will attend the Republican Big Top as part of the delegation for the Creative Coalition, that handsome Hollywood political clubhouse headed up by Billy Baldwin. Also planning to be in the C.C. delegation: Richard Belzer, Michael J. Fox, Bianca Jagger, Richard Kind, Donovan Leitch ( explain, please, someone), Joan Rivers and Daniel Stern.
Creative Coalition executive director Robin Bronk said that this year’s C.C. platform has three pillars: public education, arts advocacy and First Amendment issues. On Tuesday, Aug. 1, the coalition will host a C-SPAN forum to examine the Republican education platform. On Wednesday, Aug. 2, there’s a panel on youth violence featuring Delroy Lindo, Steve Allen and Congresswoman Mary Bono (R-Cal.).
This will be the Creative Coalition’s third round of conventions. Ms. Brock said the group is being seen as “more of a player” in 2000.
“We had people vying to go on our panels, which was pretty exciting,” Ms. Brock said.
But if you thought that all those stars were going to show up in Philadelphia and not have a big benefit fiesta–well, you got another think coming, mister. Wednesday night, the C.C.-ers will flock to a Parkinson’s disease fund-raiser for Michael J. Fox, featuring Mr. Fox, Nancy Reagan and Arianna Huffington, as well as a bunch of star-struck senior editors from George magazine, which is co-sponsoring this good-cause hoedown.
Overall, however, the Creative Coalition stars will be focused on making a difference on the convention floor, not the dance floor. “Any one of those delegates who is spending their time doing this and taking a week off from work to do this, is significantly well-versed and interested in participating in the democratic process,” Ms. Brock said. “All of them have their own issues that they … want to make sure [reach] a national agenda and national leadership. I can tell you, for example, that Daniel Stern is an expert on media literacy.”
Who knew? Tonight on TBS, Twins, featuring media-literate Republican Arnold Schwarzenegger. [TBS, 8, 10:35 p.m.]
Saturday, July 29
Are you ready for some football? Of course you aren’t. It’s July, for heaven’s sake. Saints at Jets . [CBS, 2, 8 p.m.]
Sunday, July 30
VH1 has a new series called Sound Affects , in which average everyday people talk about the pop songs that changed their lives. No, it’s not about the time that you and your girlfriends smoked an entire dime bag, cranked the Breeders’ “Cannonball” on 10 and danced around in your underwear. Sound Affects is a bit more dewy-eyed and earnest than that–a stroke victim who learns to speak again by singing to Tears for Fears ( not making that up), that kind of thing.
Not everyone has such a cathartic ditty, however. NYTV asked Sound Affects executive producer Jane Lipsitz to name the song that changed her life, and she was positively flummoxed.
“Oh … I’m behind the scenes … you know what, I should have known that this could … I’m a huge Crowded House fan and I think that … I don’t know what song, particularly, but a lot of their … ”
“Don’t Dream It’s Over”?
“Yeah, but there’s a couple … the Woodface album … I have always listened to that when times are, like … when I’m in a bad mood. ”
So when those VH1 staffers hear Woodface piping out of Ms. Lipsitz’s office, do they know not to rap on the door?
Ms. Lipsitz laughed. “Yeah, they know not to come in.”
Tonight on VH1, the new Meat Loaf bio pic, To Hell and Back . Some big dude named W. Earl Brown plays Mr. Loaf. That, of course, makes him a Meat Loaf substitute. [VH1, 19, 8 p.m.]
Monday, July 31
Still not ready for some football? Too bad: 49ers versus Patriots on Monday Night Football . This meaningless game got moved up an hour to accommodate meaningless convention coverage. And it’s Dennis Miller’s debut in the blabbering booth. [WABC, 7, 7 p.m.]
Tuesday, Aug. 1
Tonight at 8 p.m., HBO premieres Drinking Apart , a documentary about alcoholism and families, from New York-based filmmaker Dr. Ken Rosenberg. Much of the film, which chronicles the lives of three families attempting to recover from alcoholism over a three-year period, takes place at the renowned Ackerman Institute for the Family in Manhattan.
Making movies is just Mr. Rosenberg’s side job. Although he is the director of numerous documentaries, including the recently Emmy-nominated Cancer: Evolution to Revolution , Dr. Rosenberg is also a practicing addiction psychiatrist and assistant professor at Cornell University. And while he’s proud of his work behind the lens, Dr. Rosenberg said that it pales in comparison to his work as an M.D.
“It’s nice for me to be able to do both,” Dr. Rosenberg said. “Hopefully films can have an impact, but I think seeing patients probably has a greater impact, because you really work with someone, you really get into their lives–you don’t just say hello to them between 8 and 10 p.m. on the tube.”
Tonight in convention land, CNN, Fox News, C-SPAN and MSNBC go wall-to-wall from Philly; ABC has live action, too, as do PBS and CBS’s 60 Minutes . But the party positions you really want to see are on Cinemax, which airs Caligula . [MAX, 33, 10 p.m.]