Fran Drescher—yes that Fran Drescher, the one from the ‘90s sitcom The Nanny—is now one of the most important labor leaders in America. After decades spent writing and starring in her own TV shows and advocating for healthcare reform through her organization Cancer Schmancer, Drescher is now putting her skills toward demanding a better contract for her fellow creators.
In July, the actors in SAG-AFTRA joined screenwriters in the Writers Guild in a strike against major Hollywood studios and streamers like Netflix and Amazon. And as President of SAG-AFTRA, she’s now at the helm of one of the most significant labor events in Hollywood history: a double-strike that has effectively shut down the entertainment industry as writers and actors demand a fair share of the enormous profits of their work. But the historic double-strike isn’t just about movies and television; it also has major implications beyond entertainment. SAG-AFTRA and WGA are also demanding stronger, industry-wide protections against studios using AI to replace writers and actors.
That means that SAG and the WGA are at the vanguard of a broader fight to protect human jobs from AI—not just for actors and writers, but for lawyers, doctors, journalists, and more. Which means that Drescher is leading a strike that may result in protections that could set a standard for all American workers.
Tune in every Thursday, and join us as we continue to explore the minds that shape our world. You can listen to the full episode in the player above, but here are a handful of excerpts from our conversation, which have been condensed and edited for clarity.
How her experience of earning residuals from The Nanny helped her realize that the current generation of performers isn't getting paid:
That's a very long time ago and a world away. And now to try and get some kind of incremental raise on a residual structure that's based on a business model that no longer exists? It's not going to ever give any of the performers, or the writers for that matter, the income that we count on. So, you have to either change the business model or change the structure of the contract.
And since it's unlikely that the business model is changing anytime soon, then it's the structure of the contract that has to change to complement what is currently, profoundly entrenched in our business nowadays.
How the SAG-AFTRA and WGA strike represents a broader labor fight:
There are workers who are thanking me who are not in the business. There are average people who are not in the business at all that say, 'Good luck with the strike.' Because it struck a chord. It's like the emperor's new clothes. When you finally say, you know, 'The emperor has no clothes on, he's naked,' everybody begins to pivot the conversation. And you can essentially have a paradigm shift. That's the bigger story here.
There doesn't seem to have been any thought put into that [Artificial Intelligence] potentially could put a lot of humans out of work. All over the world and in all different walks of life, not just writers and performers. Doctors and lawyers and authors and the list goes on and on. A human cashier, when I go into a local store: Where are those people? I saw a little box robot going around making deliveries here in Santa Monica, and it's like, that used to be a person on a bicycle. Where is that person? So what I'm calling industry out on is that we have to reinvent what the word "success" means.
Because it can't just be about the bottom line. Profit at the expense of all things of true value: humanity, other life, the very planet itself... That's maniacal. And sociopathic. And that's what we really have to be talking about when we talk about AI.
On whether SAG-AFTRA will call for a viewer strike, asking people to stop watching streamers or studios in solidarity with striking works:
You know, it very well could come. Definitely. I don't know how much that would put a chink in their armor. I don't know. I mean, they have millions of subscribers all over the world.
And we're 160,000 members, and then maybe, you can convince some friends and family. So it's possible that it could do some damage to them. I think we're holding onto that as a possible trump card, if you'll pardon the expression, when we need it. We don't really need it in this minute. Because we're on the front pages, and we have a righteous fight.
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