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Strike Out

They say timing is everything, and if that's the case, the Screen Actors Guild has nothing. That is no commentary on the issues in its long negotiations with Hollywood studios, as SAG actually has several legs to stand on in its contract dispute.

But the economy is plummeting and probably heading for worse times after the holiday season sales results come in. The television industry is limping through yet another painful fall, with few bright spots in a dour couple of months for much of broadcast TV.

With the writers' strike still fresh in the minds of so many, SAG has failed to do what the Writers Guild of America did so successfully—drum up support both internally and externally. So it is hard to see why now is the time to turn up the heat for an industry that is already getting scorched.

To be clear, we only look at this dispute through a television industry scope, even though movie stars are the biggest names who are taking sides. Speaking of movies, the public slap-fight going on now between SAG and the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers is a little like Groundhog Day, a reminder of the WGA-AMPTP silliness before the writers walked.

But there are many differences this time around. First and foremost is whether SAG can get the membership to back a strike.

SAG has said it will send out strike authorization ballots to its 120,000 members soon, and must get 75% approval to call a walkout. SAG leadership said over the summer they weren't sure if they could get the votes. And that was before Wall Street collapsed.

Getting support from members was never a big question with the WGA, which was led by a president who ran for office promising strong-arm tactics, and had a constituency ready to support him. That's not the case with the splintered group of actors. And we have to ask: Is now really the time to walk? Hasn't the writers' strike fallout provided a lesson?

The WGA can say what it wants about what it got from the strike—but the guild also shot a big hole in its own foot at the same time. With the television business already in flux, the strike simply pushed the industry into the abyss a little quicker. Ultimately, what that means is fewer jobs for writers, period.

With the financial hit the networks and studios took, programmers and networks had to cut back even before the economic collapse. These days that means less money spent on scripted programming. So while the WGA claims victory, it came at a great cost. And a strike now would mean the same thing for actors—fewer jobs when the work stoppage ends.

B&C expects to be painted as pro-conglomerate, in the same way we—and most other publications—were accused during the WGA strike. It was so pleasant to have the showrunner of one of the biggest shows on television tell one of our reporters, and one from our sister publication Variety, that everything we wrote was dictated by Big Media.

But here is some dictation you can write down: This is not the time for another work stoppage, period. Assuming SAG can get its membership on the same page in the first place.