Press Articles (43)

Contract Battles

Tuesday, March 25, 2003

More money. More time off. More outs. More perks. At one time, these were demands that popular actors could make during contract time, and they often met with success. But stars are learning the hard way that in today's shaky financial climate, they may actually be offered less than they were getting before ... or nothing at all.

In the past year alone. Kristina Wagner (ex-Felicia) couldn't come to terms with GENERAL HOSPITAL. Sharon Case's (Sharon, YOUNG AND RESTLESS) negotiations went into overtime (see page 4), Hunter Tylo (ex-Taylor, BOLD AND BEAUTIFUL) and Lisa Rinna (ex-Billie, DAYS OF OUR LIVES) were shown the door and esteemed veterans like Mau-reen Garrett (Holly, GUIDING LIGHT) and Jennifer Bassey (Marian, ALL MY CHILDREN) were dropped to recurring. And that's only the beginning, according to industry insiders. "It's always tough," sighs David Shaughnessy, Y&R's executive producer. "Times are lean and one has to be a little more careful these days, and I think everyone appreciates that. It's always difficult when you have to weigh importance of characters and how easy or not they would be to write out. It's never very pleasant."

So, why are top stars getting cut? Y&R Co-Head Writer Jack Smith indicates that daytime profits are dwindling and the money to help make up for the shortfall has to come from somewhere. "This is a different environment than it was five or six years ago, for the genre and for all of television, due to the financial aspects," he notes. "This is not the rip-roaring, crazy '90s where the stock market was going out of control and money was flying everywhere. It's a more difficult environment for negotiating. We're fighting to bring it back up to here it used to be, but for a lot of people, the climate has ade it tough."
Back in the heyday of soaps, stars could demand — and get — large pay raises. Not anymore, says talent manager Michael Bruno, who handles Billy Warlock (A.J., GH). Lauren Koslow (Kate, DAYS) and Bruce Michael Hall (Joey, ONE LIFE TO LIVE), among other daytime stars. "Nowadays, if you're in renegotiations to stay on your show. A, they call you and want you to stay, that's a great thing," he explains. "B, if they don't take anything away, that's a wonderful thing and C, if you get anywhere from a $50 to a $100 bump per show, you've won the lottery. But there is a D. They might say, 'We're taking you off-contract, but we're still going to keep you around,' which is a nice way of saying, 'We'll see you on the Christmas show.' That's how the business has changed."

That's not the only thing that has changed, according to one veteran actress. "The salaries have changed. The criteria has changed. They're equating the salary to your popularity on some level," she reveals. "They've lost viewership, so their budgets are different. There are people who have been on soaps for a long time who have high salaries, comparatively, and I think they're being looked at as a liability or an asset. Highly paid people who are not bringing in viewers or sustaining viewership or whatever the determining factor is — that will determine whether you're a liability or an asset."

Bruno agrees. "For my hot people, I tell them that now is the time to play hardball," he asserts. "When you know you have them, you need to play harder ball, because what happens is when you're 45, they're going to say. 'We still want you, but we want some money back.' So, you need to get the money as high as possible and settle for a little lower, because six years from now, they're going to be taking $100 or $200 per show."

Or write you out altogether, like one actor who recently got the ax from his East Coast show. "We're in more of a bottom-line time," he allows. "The business people — and God bless "em, they're a lot smarter than I am — are looking at salary and not necessarily at the value that [a veteran]'brings in terms of established connections with the audience. There's no quesiion in my mind that my leaving has a lot to do with dollars and cents, at least from their perspective. They can take the money they spent on me. one person, iind use it to hire a bunch of kids."

OLTL's Kassie DePaiva (Blair) acknowledges that shows have to be practical (though her contract is solid for the ime being). "I think monies are tight nd budgets are tight and networks are acting accordingly. There has to be a leveling out." she says. ''Sometimes, older actors have to step aside for younger people to come in and make room for them financially and physically on-camera. My day will come, and that's the nature of this genre. Not that it's always been young, but we have some older actors in this medium who can't be the ingenues anymore. I'm certainly not an ingenue anymore, that's just the reality."

And the high-paid veterans are in the most vulnerable position. "The network knows [the actors] have nowhere to go and therefore, the network has all the power," opines manager Bruno. "But the veterans have to change their way of thinking, like instead of making $600,000 a year, they have to know they're going to make $400,000. and is that so bad? Pride is out the door. We're seeing people who we thought would be on daytime forever unable to get a job as a recurring judge on another show. And that's scary. The veterans don't have a leg to stand on. The network will take the risk of losing actors now."

In order for you to be paid well, you better be extremely popular and be willing to walk," one actress says. "And they have to know that you are willing to walk. Even then. I don't know what the deal is. It's a different world, and it's not only in this industry. Everybody's downsizing. There's a different set of rules in terms of what actors get paid, who gets paid what, when and how."

And it doesn't look like anything is changing soon. "The contract process is completely to the advantage of the show and network, not the actor," says Bruno. "The shows are too top heavy and have to cut their losses,"

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