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Hu$h Money

Monday, March 28, 2005

Why is there an unspoken ban on daytime acto speaking about their salaries?

Learn the skinny on soap paydays

While everybody knows about Jim Carrey's $20 million per movie fee, soap salaries are such a taboo subject that most daytimers are just as in the dark about how much their peers earn as the fans are.

Why the secrecy?

For starters, on soaps as in most workplaces, talking about money is bad manners. "It's not so much a secret as it's rude to say how much you make," Michelle Stafford (Phyllis, The Young and the Restless) contends. "If some guy talks about how expensive his car was or his watch was, that's just cheesy. .. but it's uncouth before it's cheesy!"

Michael Bruno, manager to the likes of Kin Shriner (Keith, As the World Turns), Kurt McKinney (Matt, Guiding Light and James Reynolds (Abe, Days o our Lives), says that in addition to being in poor taste, talking about salaries can cause trouble on the set in these budget-conscious times. "Everything is so crazy right now, where they're robbing Peter to pay Paul, so more than ever, who's making what causes big problems within each show," he says. "It's very `high school."

Indeed the steady decline in daytime ratings has had a big impact on soap budgets - and that affects salaries. "They are doing everything in every level of production to keep the show a moneymaker," Susan Seaforth Hayes (Julie) says of Days. "It's a matter of survival. It's only right to consider the bottom line first, which they do, and I don't blame anybody for it."

Veteran stars, whose salaries were set in soaps' glory days and who have enjoyed decades of raises since then, suffer most. More and more, they're being asked to take less money. "It's very sad," Bruno sighs. "The powers-that-be know that anyone over 40 who's stayed on a soap has nowhere to go, except maybe another soap, so they can say to 10 cast members, `This is what we're giving You.Take it or leave it.' They will also take money from older veterans to give to the 26-Year-old hot stars to keep them, because realistically, a 26-year-old can still have a career outside of daytime."

Some daytimers quietly take the pay cuts, but others, like Larry Bryggman (John, ATWT) and James Kiberd (ex-Trevor, All My Children), walk away. "What I try to discuss with my clients when they face a pay cut is the reality of the business," Bruno says. "Do you want a guarantee that at least you're working and you're going to make $150 50,000, as opposed to nothing? You have two kids in college, a mortgage and a cabin somewhere, so you've got to put your pride aside and say, 'Look, things are bad right now. Hopefully if my day rate is lower, they will work me more.'"

Talking The Talk

Before getting to specific figures, it's important to understand how daytime pays its actors. So much of the salary buzz involves the minimums, but what exactly do they mean and how important are they?

"The minimum is how many days of work you're guaranteed Per week," Bruno explains. "Even if you don't work your minimum, you know that you're at least going to get paid that amount."

So for example, "$2 000 at one" means a daytimer earns $2,000 a day and at least $2,000 a week while "$2,000 at two" earns a daytimer at least $4,000 a week. Bruno warns actors not to become too focused on the guarantee number.

"There's the adage that if you don't have a three guarantee, they're not going to write for You. That's bull----," Bruno insists. "First of all, the highest guarantee anyone gets these days is a two. Second, if you're working a frontburner story, you're basically working three-and-a-half to four episodes a week over the year, even if your guarantee is only one. If they're not going to write you, then you're off the show and the guarantee means nothing."

In short, the buck stops with the dollar amount. "I'd rather get $2,000 at a minimum of one than $1,500 at three, because if all of a sudden you hit. You're working five days a week, which is $2,000 times five, Bruno offers. "That's better than 1,500 times five!"

That may not sound like much when cornpared to prime time, where NBC's Friends banked $1 million a show, but don't be fooled. "It's the tortoise and the hare," Hayes quips. "The soap opem actor would be the tortoise, ambling along at a low and slow rate, but doing many shows in a year, with the years adding up. The hares would be people who have contracts on nighttime shows," which average 22 episodes a year, but for only a limited number of years (or even weeks).

What Daytimers Take In

For all the politicking going on, seniority still rules in daytime. Typically, a vet who's been on the same show for 10 to 20 Years is getting $5,000 at two. That's a guarantee of $520,000 a year, with the potential to make over a million if they get a hot story that has them working more than their minimums.

Of course, that's just the "average" top. "There are certainly six to eight people who are over that amount the Tony Gearys, Susan Luccis, Erika Slezaks, Eric Braedens and Deidre Halls," Bruno points out.

These days, however, TPTB are trying to bring the industry high down to $3,500 and they're starting newbies out at lower rates as well. Back in the 1980s to early 1990s, "As a new player in your first contract, you were getting up to at least $1,600 at two and if they really wanted you, you could get up to $2,000 a show" Bruno recalls. These days a good deal for a newcomer with no credits is $1,100 per episode - and some newbies pull in $900 with the guarantee of just one-and-a-half episodes a week.

That's quite a drop, until you do the math: $1,100 at two is a guarantee of $114,400 a year, with a possibility of $ 286K. And you can bet the Chandler mansion that most actors would sign on at those rates!

By Deanna Barnert
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