Actors and the Anti-Rerun Campaign

Abstract: The early 1970s marked a number of significant changes in the television landscape: new regulatory structures, the growth of cable, and shifts in programming including a steep rise in televised reruns. By 1972, reruns constituted over half of prime time network television. Although this practice benefited the financial bottom-line for producers, it was frustrating to audiences and infuriating for workers. The reduction of new programs translated into fewer workdays for many in Hollywood, including actors. SAG and AFTRA membership was concerned about how this change in programming strategy impacted their opportunities for work. In order to solve the problem of diminished workdays, actors launched an “Anti-Rerun” Campaign that ran between 1971-1975.

Using the Anti-Rerun campaign as a case study and using internal documents from the SAG-AFTRA archive as evidence, I will show how SAG shifted its bargaining priorities and came to recognize the importance of the enduring life of old content and worked to incorporate a formula for profit participation into collective bargaining agreements. By the 1970s the right to residuals was already established, but residuals could not solve all of the issues that faced actors as media content and platforms proliferated — residuals were only effective as a supplement, not as a replacement for income. The story of actors and replay demonstrates how actors and their unions attempted to anticipate industry trends and how workers acclimated to changing distribution strategies. At times union leadership and membership wavered in their bargaining priorities, adopting positions, such as opposing reruns, that seemed to be at odds with other objectives. As the unions formed a more cohesive position, residuals became more central to their demands. However, by offering financial (rather than employment) security, residuals enabled acting to continue to exist as structurally inconsistent work rather than challenging the cultural workplace norms that had defined the media industry since the breakup of the studio system.