Writers' Strike Starts to Hit Actors

Dozens of actors joined striking writers on the picket lines this week. They may also soon be joining scribes in not collecting a full paycheck.

At least one studio, Universal Media Studios, has already informed regular cast members on several of its series, including "The Office" and "Bionic Woman," that it's suspending their contracts. Other studios are likely to follow suit in the next few days, the showbiz trade papers report.

The media companies are within their rights to cut off deals with actors, citing a "force majeure" provision in the Screen Actors Guild contract. Under force majeure, a party can free itself from the obligations of a contract if something outside either side's control disrupts business.

The Writers Guild strike, in this case, qualifies as such an outside force.

Triggering the force majeure clause gives the studios three options under contracts with SAG and the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists, the other actors' union. The media companies can either put regulars on hold, continuing to pay their full salaries; suspend them for up to five weeks at half-pay; or terminate them.

Universal has chosen the suspension option, meaning the likes of Michelle Ryan, Steve Carell and "30 Rock" star Alec Baldwin will receive half their salaries for the next five weeks. At the end of that time, both the studio and the actors have the option to end their deals or continue at their regular pay.

If other studios choose to terminate their deals with actors, the performers would be free to pursue other projects. The actors' jobs are guaranteed for whenever production resumes, but any new work that comes along during the downtime would be the top priority.