Dispatches From The Picket Lines: Striking Actors Dump On Bill Maher & Decry AI During NYC Rallies

This is Day 127 of the WGA strike and Day 54 of the SAG-AFTRA strike.

After the long Labor Day weekend, the Writers Guild of America East had no pickets scheduled for Tuesday in New York City, and turnout was light on a hot and muggy morning at a pair of SAG-AFTRA pickets outside NBCUniversal and Netflix offices in Manhattan.

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“We are small but mighty today,” voice actor, singer and SAG-AFTRA strike captain Sue Berch told about four dozen people in wrap-up remarks at the Netflix rally, where actors Susan Sarandon, F. Murray Abraham, Michael Cyril Creighton and Mike Doyle also walked the picket line.

Berch thanked everyone for coming out, then teed off on comments that talk show host Bill Maher made about the writers strike in the latest episode of his podcast, Club Random.

The host of HBO’s Real Time with Bill Maher expressed sympathy for writers and agreed with guest Jim Gaffigan that writers are getting “screwed” on residual income from streaming, but he also said that some of their demands are “kooky” and that “they kind of believe that you’re owed a living as a writer.”

“And you’re not,” Maher said. “This is show business. This is a make-or-miss league.”

Berch said watching video of Maher’s show left her “annoyed.”

“He’s sittin’ on an overstuffed chair, smoking a cigar, completely tone deaf, and he’s saying: ‘You know I really care about my writers. I’m one of my writers, and I get that there’s a strike but, you know, nobody promised these guys a career.’

“You know what? You’re right: No one promised us a career,” Berch said through a bullhorn. “But because we have careers, we should be able to make a decent wage. It’s not too much to ask for that.”

Berch also mentioned Tuesday’s SEC filing in which Warner Bros. CEO David Zaslav said the actors and writers strikes would cost the company $300 million-$500 million.

“I have a solution for them,” Berch said in the direction of the Warner Bros. Discovery offices down the block from Netflix. “Come back to the table. Negotiate a contract. The strike will be over. You won’t lose money, and we’ll all go back to work.”

Farther uptown, about two dozen picketers rallied outside NBCUniversal headquarters at Rockefeller Center. One of them was Margaret Owens, a background actor and SAG-AFTRA member who lives in Philadelphia and traveled to New York to join the march.

“I’m part of the Philly local. I’m generally a background actor,” Owens told Deadline. “We are the majority of who makes up the union.”

A former model and a SAG-AFTRA member since 2014, Owens now has an office job and enough background acting work on the side — most of it in New York — to remain in the union. She has no screen credits but has appeared briefly in projects ranging from M. Night Shyamalan’s Glass to episodes of Netflix’s Orange Is the New Black.

She said that performers like her see 18-hour days on set translate into seconds on screen. “Blink and you miss me,” Owens said.

“I haven’t yet got scanned,” Owens added, but she is worried that background actors are at risk of being digitally replicated and replaced by artificial intelligence without protections in the next contract.

“We’re fighting for the everyday actor, the ones that make this happen,” Owens said. “I seriously took a day off from my job and hoofed it up here on the hottest days of the summer because it’s important and it’s necessary. People need to get reminded we’re not all millionaires.”

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