Actors' Strike Finally Over

Striking actors can finally breathe a sigh of relief — at least until their next audition.

The Screen Actors Guild said today that its members could resume work for the advertising industry as early as next week, after settling a dispute over payment for broadcast, cable, and Internet commercials and ending a six-month walkout that is the longest in Hollywood history.

Pending approval by their board and expected ratification by SAG and American Federation of Television & Radio Artists members by mail, union representatives said their members would be ready to return to work next Monday.

"The negotiators … have reached a tentative agreement on a new three-year contract in the fields of television and radio commercials, effectively ending the strike that began on May 1," Paul Reggio, an actor who referred to himself as "the retired captain of the strike," told a news conference this afternoon.

Officials of the unions, which represent 135,000 actors, said they had achieved many, but not all, of their goals after the six-month strike, which cost members as much as $2 million per day in session fees and residuals. The ad industry paid SAG and AFTRA members more than $720 million last year.

"Our membership has every reason to be happy about this agreement," said SAG President William Daniels, best known for his starring role on the 1980s hospital drama St. Elsewhere.

The actors fought off a bid by the ad industry, represented by the American Association of Advertising Agencies and the Association of National Advertisers, to end residuals for network television ads (actors are paid for the number of times a commercial airs).

The pay-for-play formula has been used since the 1950s to compensate actors for network commercials. Now it will continue — at least on the networks.

The actors failed in their demand to expand residuals to cable ads, instead winning an up-to-140 percent increase in pay for cable ads over the life of the three-year contract.

Another key issue, concerning ads made exclusively for the Internet, yielded a payment structure for broadcast ads run on the Internet, as well as the unions' securing jurisdiction over ads made especially for use on the Internet.

"We preserved our future with getting jurisdiction on the Internet," Daniels said.

A union-led boycott against major advertiser Procter & Gamble's Tide, Crest, and Ivory Soap brands was being scaled back and would be formally dropped after ratification, officials said. Procter & Gamble was influential in helping reach a deal, the unions said.

"We can all hold our heads high, as can the industry," said AFTRA President Shelby Scott. "Each side got something they wanted … and I think the industry will be happy that they can start shooting good commercials again."

During the strike, advertisers resorted to several tactics to avoid using union actors — going overseas or to secondary locations far away from New York and Los Angeles, shooting spots without dialogue, and rerunning old spots.

The union said today that members who performed struck work could face lifetime expulsion from the union. British actress Elizabeth Hurley was branded a "scab" by union actors for making a perfume commercial during the strike. She has apologized and has said she was unaware of the work stoppage.

Throughout the strike, celebrities such as Paul Newman, Tom Hanks, Julia Roberts, Susan Sarandon, and Tim Robbins appeared on the actors' behalf.

Observers say six-figure donations to the relief fund from Kevin Spacey, Nicolas Cage, Harrison Ford, Helen Hunt, Eddie Murphy, and Bruce Willis increased the pressure on advertisers.

Reuters contributed to this story.