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Fran Drescher tells NPR the breakthrough moment that ended the Hollywood strikes

SAG-AFTRA leader Fran Drescher.
Mandalit del Barco/NPR
SAG-AFTRA leader Fran Drescher.

The longest strike in history by actors against film and TV studios has finally ended.

As of Thursday morning, actors are free to work again now that their union — SAG-AFTRA — has a tentative deal in hand. It still needs to be ratified, but it includes pay bumps, protections against artificial intelligence and streaming bonuses.

So far, studio heads have not responded to NPR's request for interviews. In a statement, the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers called the tentative agreement "a new paradigm" and said it "looks forward to the industry resuming the work of telling great stories."

SAG-AFTRA president Fran Drescher spoke to All Things Considered host Ailsa Chang on Thursday about the deal.

This interview has been lightly edited for length and clarity.

Ailsa Chang: I should note first that NPR News staffers are also members of SAG-AFTRA, but we are under a different contract. We were not on strike. We've been working this whole time. Now you guys get to work as well. So tell me, Fran, after almost four months of actors striking, what was the breakthrough that led to this deal, you think?

Fran Drescher: Well, we were making strides throughout the time that we were on strike, except, of course, from when the AMPTP decided they were either going to walk out or they themselves were deliberating taking time before they came back with a counterproposal. So, you know, the time was usually productive. And once we really got to a place where not only did they really fully grasp the idea that this is a new dawn, that this is new leadership, that this is a historic time and this calls for a seminal negotiation — then whatever it was that we were talking about, whatever it was we felt that we needed, they decided to put their thinking caps on and group together to come up with their own solution version.

Chang: Let me talk about that new dawn, as you refer. Do you think the protections for artificial intelligence in this contract are broad enough to keep up with this quickly-evolving technology? Or do you think, Fran, you're going to have to renegotiate this AI issue all over again in three years when this contract is up?

Drescher: Well, I think that it's going to be an ongoing discussion and potentially an ongoing battle, because in the world of AI, three months is equivalent to a year. So we got whatever we thought we could possibly get to protect our members for the duration of this contract. But we also requested that we all meet together to just take the pulse of where technology is twice a year.

Chang: I think the understanding is that you would revisit the AI issue.

Drescher: We would be talking about it because we're going to have to come together on the same side for federal regulation and also to protect both of us from piracy. So, you know, there is a lot there that we have to really start working together on. And now there's language in the contract to protect my members. And in three years, it may be a whole different situation with new problems that need to be unpacked and discussed and argued and negotiated. And I think it's going to be this way for a very long time. And that's OK.

Chang: Let's talk about the streaming participation bonus. I mean, I know that you had to push really hard to get the AMPTP to agree to this bonus, which basically means that actors will now get paid more if a show that's on a streaming platform is a hit. But there are a lot of shows on streaming platforms that aren't hits, right? Like, Bloomberg found that fewer than 5% of original programs on Netflix last year would be considered popular enough to result in performance bonuses. So what do you make of that?

Drescher: Well, actually, the mechanism by which we determine the amount of money put into the fund is determined by the shows that receive 20% of the viewers, which is basically a thimble size.

Chang: Right. You're saying that if a particular show gets 20% of the platform's subscribers to be an audience that's considered a hit, and then a fund gets some of the bonus, if you will.

Drescher: Yeah. Then the bonus money will go into the fund based off of that mechanism. And then part of the bonus money will go to the performers that are actually on those shows because those shows would, you know, be definitely in syndication were they on linear television.

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Ailsa Chang is an award-winning journalist who hosts All Things Considered along with Ari Shapiro, Audie Cornish, and Mary Louise Kelly. She landed in public radio after practicing law for a few years.
Michael Levitt
Michael Levitt is a news assistant for All Things Considered who is based in Atlanta, Georgia. He graduated from UCLA with a B.A. in Political Science. Before coming to NPR, Levitt worked in the solar energy industry and for the National Endowment for Democracy in Washington, D.C. He has also travelled extensively in the Middle East and speaks Arabic.
Christopher Intagliata is an editor at All Things Considered, where he writes news and edits interviews with politicians, musicians, restaurant owners, scientists and many of the other voices heard on the air.
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