The FX cable network said last week that it was dropping all Schwarzenegger titles from its schedule because it was "the appropriate thing to do" while the international star runs for governor. The Los Angeles Times reported that FX spokesman John Solberg would not elaborate on the decision to pull "Eraser" and "Predator" from the schedule.
FX had televised both movies recently and had planned to air them several more times between now and Oct. 7, when the recall election is scheduled to be held. The cable channel's decision appears to have been based on a cautious reading of federal law, which allows candidates for political office to demand equal time from broadcasters that put on entertainment programs featuring other candidates.
According to the Times, that equal time provision has mainly been applied to local broadcast outlets. The decision to pull Schwarzenegger movies from the cable network's schedule for the duration of the recall campaign appears to be intended to avoid the risk of having to give equal time to other candidates in the recall race.
Jeffrey Yorke, a spokesman for the National Association of Broadcasters, told United Press International the NAB sent a "Terminator Alert" to radio and TV stations in California after Schwarzenegger announced on "The Tonight Show with Jay Leno" that he would run for governor.
The organization advised broadcasters in the state that "stations should be aware that ... the airing of movies and other entertainment programming in which Schwarzenegger appears will trigger equal opportunity requirements for all other legally qualified recall candidates."
The Times reported that at least two cable channels had inquired at the Federal Communications Commission as to whether the equal time provision applied to cable TV operations. It also reported that an analysis of the TV Guide programming schedule revealed that such cable outlets as TNT, USA, Sci Fi Channel and HBO have scheduled 50 airings of Schwarzenegger movies during the second half of August alone.
Schwarzenegger movies are perennially popular on cable, but the star is enjoying higher-than-average play these days -- largely because of the publicity for the summer opening of his latest movie, "Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines," as well as publicity surrounding his involvement in the recall election.
Ordinarily, when a star's movies get an unusually heavy amount of play on TV, the result can be a financial windfall -- not only for the star, but also for the other actors, the writers, the musicians and even the technicians who worked on the pictures.
Entertainment attorney Alan M. Brunswick, a partner in the Los Angeles firm Manatt, Phelps & Phillips, said those filmmakers can derive substantial income from residual payments, which are part of their basic labor agreements with producers. But he doubted that anyone earning residuals from Schwarzenegger movies would be badly damaged economically if the action star's titles were not played during the recall campaign.
"No, because all they have to do is run the pictures Oct. 8," said Brunswick. "I don't know where the loss is except in the interest on the money."
As a general rule, actors and other participants earn residual payments based on formulas negotiated by their respective unions.
"The Writers Guild of America has a deal that says, if the movie is guild covered, 1.2 percent of the license fee for TV ... goes to the writer," said Brunswick. "The Directors Guild is also 1.2 percent. The Screen Actors Guild is 3.6 percent, divided among all the actors."
That money is not divided evenly among the actors. Rather, there is a complicated formula that apportions payments of differing amounts, based on how much each actor was paid for the project originally, and how much screen time the actor had.
So performers such as Vanessa Williams ("Eraser"), Linda Hamilton ("Terminator," "Terminator 2: Judgment Day) and Jamie Lee Curtis ("True Lies") stand to collect more residual money for each play than Danny Nucci, Earl Boen or Bill Paxton -- who had briefer roles in those movies.
Not all cable channels are taking the cautious approach attributed to FX. According to the Times, an HBO spokeswoman said that after reviewing the law, the network had determined that it -- along with other national cable channels such as FX and USA -- is exempt from the equal time rule.
In any case, a temporary lull in TV exhibition of a movie may be a minor inconvenience to professionals who earn residuals, but Brunswick said the consequences would be more severe if a picture were pulled permanently. That is relatively rare, though.
"I just saw 'Naked Gun' on TV not too long ago," said Brunswick -- referring to one of O.J. Simpson's more popular titles.
On the other hand, "Frogman" -- the movie in which the football star reputedly learned to use a knife prior to the stabbing death of his ex-wife and her friend -- is rarely, if ever, seen.
"I guess it's going to vary by content," said Brunswick.
The content of Schwarzenegger's movies is only a tangential issue in the recall campaign, with some of his critics -- editorial and political -- observing that the routinely high body counts send a message that violence is the solution to most of life's problems.
If Schwarzenegger wins the recall election, in this era of the permanent campaign, another question will inevitably arise if he were to run for a full term in 2004: when will it be time to pull his movies from the schedule again? And for how long?
If Schwarzenegger's political star rises as high as his most ardent supporters hope it will, residual payments for his movies in the future could take a more substantial hit. But for now, the big guy's colleagues don't stand to absorb much in the way of economic consequences if the movies aren't shown between now and Oct. 7.
And if he wins the election, that will likely give him added heat in Hollywood. The networks might even give his movies more play yet, at least for as long as they can avoid equal time issues.