The New Deal
Tuesday, March 07, 2006
An Insider's Glimpse At Contract Negotiations
Followers of Digest's news section know that contract negotiations between actors and soaps have gotten awfully tense. Shows are playing hardball, stars are feeling dissed and fans are caught in the crossfire as they wonder how long they'll have their favorite performers. "It is a war zone. The actors agents and managers never had so little power," say's talent manager Michael Bruno, whose clients include Josh Taylor (Roman, DAYS OF LIVES), Lesli Kay (Felicia, BOLD AND BEAUTIFUL) and Paul Satterfield (Spencer, ONE LIFE TO LIVE).
A top East Coast actor concurs, "I was asked to take a cut, not as big of a cut as some people were asked to take from what I hear, but as an actor I didn't feel like I was in a position of power anymore. They're the ones in the driver's seat. They're much more likely than before to say, 'Well, we don't need you anymore.'"
A grim economic situation is the driving force. "The ratings of soaps are down so much that they aren't making the money they used to make by any stretch," states talent manager Marv Dauer. "It filters down to the actor. That's why they are paying less money."
Agent Barry Kolker, whose clients include Martha Madison (Belle, DAYS) and Ilene Kristen (RoxY, OLTL) and is president of Carsonl/Kolker Organization asserts, "It's a matter of survival for the shows that's why actors and actresses agree to pay cuts."
The cost-cutting measures include bumping stars from contract to recurring and reducing the minimum guarantee. TV Guide columnist Michael Logan shares "A contract can be lessened by half a day. Some of these contracts used to be for three shows a week. It can be 2.5 shows a week. As goofy as it sounds, that can mean some sort of financial benefit, cutting a star back by a half a show a week"
One beloved veteran performer confides that the topic has become so sensitive, castmates are hesitant to discuss negotiations among themselves. "No one really interjects anymore. [Previously] we would huddle in small groups and ask each other questions to find out the parameters of our different contracts. But it's become more and more tight-lipped over the years."
A New York-based fan favorite who is now on recurring status notes that older actors have sweated for a long time. "This has kind of been industry dialogue for 10 Years - that older people are going to be dumped, they aren't going to have as many contracts. There was a rumor around 10 Years ago that anybody over 40 wouldn't get a contract on a soap. It's nothing really new. It makes everyone m the business jittery."
And a West Coast performer complains, "[The powers-that-be] really need to treat the vets better. They're who the viewers want to see and they bring in numbers. If someone's helping to make a profit, you do what you can to get them to stay. That's good business."
Logan explains that the actors with the most negotiating chips are the ones who shows consider to have the most outside options. "If you are young and you have shown yourself to be a contender and you fit into that group that is most likely to be cast in prime-time, then you are in the best position possible when it comes to negotiating staying on a show," he asserts. "A good example was Rebecca Budig [ex-Greenlee, ALL MY CHILDREN]. I don't think anybody doubted for a second that she could leave soaps and come to Los Angeles and get work... I think the producers and the networks look at who is most likely to be stolen."
One actor who emerged with a satisfying deal was Mark Collier (Mike, AS THE WORLD TURNS), who re-signed with a six-week break so he could go out for pilot season. "It's a win-win situation and hard to get down on," the actor says. "I think, quite honestly, that I got a little lucky because there was no one left in my age range on the show when I was getting ready to leave. It was me and Trent [Dawson, Henry] left. And that's a very important age range." Around the same time Collier's co-star Grayson McCouch (Dusty) also re-signed a contract with generous outs.
Bruno who is a judge on I WANNA BE A SOAP STAR, believes the networks should make overhauls. "If I was running the networks, I would structure the deals completely differently. It's more beneficial to the show to have the actor as long as possible. I would ask for like they have in nighttime, five and six-year deals. But with doing that, also having options for outs. An out gives the person an opportunity to try out for prime-time and film, and most importantly, nighttime pilots. When you are negotiating deals, you are always asking for a pilot out. Basically what they will do, and they are being tough on this now, they will give you a pilot out in the last six months in the last year of your contract. That means if you have a three year contract, two-and-a-half years into your contract, you're allowed to go out and get a nighttime pilot. If the pilot gets picked up, you can leave, if not, and you want to stay on the show, they renegatiate. What I would do [as a network exec] is go in asking for a six-year deal and so they don't feel like they are stuck for an entire six years, you give them outs starting at the end of the third, fourth, fifth, sixth year. Logic states that maybe two out of 10 actors on the show are going to hit in the out clause. It's better for the show in long-term writing having someone for five or six years and saying, 'You can go out and do other things. If you hit, you can leave, but if you don't hit, we still have you."'
Keep An Eye On The Time. Barry Kalker notes, "Obviously, you try to get as many outs that are realistic. In terms of pilot season, you also have to have time to shoot the pilot. And if you're in New York, you have to have time off to test, to go to studio and if you make it past studio, to go to network. The soap has to be willing to share you or release you for prime-time. These are things we would look for in terms of outs. Of course, when people renegotiate, they always look for more money and that's part of it, but sometimes it's more about less time in the contract, and the money isn't always a top issue."
Michael Bruno elaborates, "It's always a benefit to the actor to have as little time as possible, the shortest contract possible with the most money, and the opposite is true for the network. They want the longest contract with the least money, that's the seesaw of if. Also, from an actor/agent/management standpoint, if you have someone get a two-year contract and they become a big hit on that show, all of a sudden you can say to the networks, 'Double it.'
Stay In Demand. Michael Logan says, "Shows can tell who's likely to move on to some other kind of work. Have people picked up interest from prime-time? Are they auditioning for pilots? Are they picking up guest spots on LAW & ORDER?" But be careful about pitting one show against another. Bruno warns, "No one ends up happy, people hold grudges. It's very high school."
By Elaine G. Flores