Talks stall again as actors strike enters 13th week

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Even as talks between striking commercial actors and advertisers have stalled again, the stakes rose as high-power celebrities were poised to buck the union.

Although no names were disclosed, executives close to the situation said big-name TV/movie performers are making plans -- perhaps secretly -- to appear in commercials. As the strike grinds into its 13th week, the pressure to film is becoming more urgent because advertisers are pushing to get new commercials on the air by the start of the new fall TV season.

"There are a number of people who will be doing [spots] discreetly," said Ira Shepard, counsel for the joint policy committee of the American Association of Advertising Agencies and the Association of National Advertisers.

DEFECTIONS EXPECTED

"If these negotiations don't work out, both sides are going to be in a pickle," said one New York-based talent agent. "I'm sure you'll see some defections."

That movement already seems under way. Two weeks ago, Estee Lauder Cos. shot a spot in Manhattan with model and actress Elizabeth Hurley for the launch of a new fragrance called Intuition.

American Honda Motor Co. is sweating out a strike deadline for the production of its campaign to run on telecasts of the Olympics in September; it is hoping for a settlement so that it can use spokesman Richard Dreyfus, who is honoring the strike. Toyota Motor Sales USA's Lexus also is holding off on spots for now in deference to voice-over actors, but said it will proceed with commercials for its LS430 this fall regardless.

"We have another voice-over [artist available], but I would prefer" to stick with the original, said Brian Sheehan, co-chairman and CEO of Lexus shop Team One Advertising, El Segundo, Calif.

Other rumblings from Hollywood also are surfacing. Last week, Adam Carolla, co-host of Comedy Central's "The Man Show" and host of MTV's "Loveline," took aim at striking actors in Los Angeles during an broadcast on KROQ-FM's "The Kevin & Bean Show," calling strikers "whiners." Protesters picketed the station, which also carries the syndicated radio version of "Loveline." Mr. Carolla, also a spokesman for 1-800-COLLECT, made similar remarks on June 30 on CBS' "The Craig Kilborn Show."

Two more athletes did shoot commercials-but with the approval of the unions. EAS, the Colorado dietary supplement marketer, filmed three spots July 17 using ex-football star John Elway and his former teammate Shannon Sharpe under the SAG interim agreement (see story on Page 4).

"Both John and Shannon were very conscious of doing the right thing as far as the union was concerned," said Jim Heidenreich, VP-marketing at EAS. "They didn't want to do anything that would impact the union in terms of crossing the picket line."

TALKS BREAK DOWN

Meanwhile, talks between representatives of advertisers and the joint committee of SAG/AFTRA broke down July 21. No new talks were scheduled.

"There was a meltdown," a SAG spokesman said. "[The advertisers] are shutting down negotiations. They refused to address anything we proposed."

The joint policy committee's Mr. Shepard said the union expanded its demand that pay-for-play compensation be extended to all cable networks.

"We are terribly disappointed that the unions haven't provided a counteroffer," Mr. Shepard said.

Earlier this month, SAG/AFTRA released names of 30 advertisers said to be parties to the union's interim agreements, but Mr. Shepard claimed a number of those told him the list is inaccurate. Companies that he said recently denied they signed such agreements are Ford Motor Co. and its Volvo Cars of North America, General Motors Corp., Philip Morris Cos. and Toyota Motor Sales USA. Earlier, he said Levi Strauss & Co., McDonald's Corp. and Sprint PCS had made no such agreements.

Heat also spiked around the strike in other ways. A hacker broke into the Web site of the American Association of Advertising Agencies to express pro-union messages, which SAG/AFTRA and ad group officials condemned. "I am no way saying that SAG did this, but it is illegal," said Four A's President-CEO O. Burtch Drake.

Around the country, SAG/AFTRA continued to protest at a number of shooting locations, although no productions were stopped or delayed because of the strikers.

In Austin, Texas, GSD&M was filming spots for Southwest Airlines using non-union actors. Picketers showed up at the shoot and outside GSD&M's office. But triple-digit temperatures forced 50 picketers to abandon their efforts.

Contributing: David Goetzl, Laura Petrecca, Alice Z. Cuneo.

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