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Safety Dance

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

As Soaps suffer Budget Cuts , Slipping Ratings And A Failing Economy, Is Anyones Job Secure?

In April 2008, daytime was abuzz when two-time Daytime Emmy-winner Martha Byrne (ex-Lily, AS THE WORLD TURNS) was unable to negotiate a contract with her show, explaining that they'd refused to give her the same number of days she'd had the previous year. Though Lily was recast with Noelle Beck (ex-Trisha, LOVING), it was difficult to believe that an actress as popular as Byrne would be replaced without much of a fight.

Over the past few years, though, soaps have been seeing more and more big names disappear from the canvas: ALL MY CHILDREN fixture Julia Barr (ex-Brooke) was dumped from the show in 2006; Cady McClain's Dixie was murdered on AMC in 2007. YOUNG AND RESTLESS killed off Don Diamont's Brad in February, despite having a history of over two decades with the show. Meantime, DAYS OF OUR LIVES axed a whoppingfil e vets who were fan favorites: Thaao Penghlis (ex-Tony), Mary Beth Evans (ex-Kayla), Stephen Nichols (ex-Steve), Deidre Hall (ex-Marlena) and Drake Hogestyn (ex-John). Which begs the question: In this bleak economic environment, exactly who is safe?

"I don't know who's safe anymore," admits talent manager Michael Bruno, who represents Amelia Heinle (Victoria, Y&R). Ricky Paull Goldin (Jake, AMC) and Lesli Kay (Felicia, BOLD AND BEAUTIFUL). -I've never seen anything so much like Russian roulette in my life. On the one hand, you'd think that the major stars on the shows would be okay. But now what's happening is the flip side of that: They may be the most in danger because they're the most expensive. The person who's been there for two years may be in better positioning than someone who's been there for 25 because he makes less money, therefore, they can afford to keep him. It's crazy."

Concurs a well-respected vet, "It seems that on a lot of shows, seniority just doesn't mean anything anymore. It's not just that these vets are being cut, it's that many are just not being used, even if they're still on the canvas. It's like, 'What's the point of being there?' Instead, many of the shows are using the younger people — probably because they don't cost as much, but it's a shame because good soaps are multigenerational. It's hurting the genre and money definitely factors into that. It's scary."

Bruno reports that even when actors aren't losing their jobs, their contracts are in jeopardy. "What used to happen is that when you sign a contract, the network could come in at the end of the cycle," he explains. "For example, with a four-year contract, it's four 13-week cycles in the first year. and then as you go on, it becomes two 26-week cycles each year. That's always the way we've known. You were never really safe, but usually if you made it a year, you were fine and would last the remainder of your contract.

"Now what's happening is, the shows are coming in whenever they want," he sighs. "Two months into your new contract, they'll say, 'We can't give you this money, so now it's less money and less of a guarantee. Let us know if you can do it by this evening.' The contracts mean nothing now.

Now, every time the phone rings, everyone jumps because the call could be from a show saying, 'We just had a budget meeting and we're cutting everyone 10 percent.' There are no rules anymore. You won't hear too much about it because everyone's being kind of quiet, but there are a lot of rumblings, 'So-and-so was asked to take a reduction.' A lot of people's salaries have been cut — more than we think."

On top of that, it's not that difficult to find actors who are willing to step in and work for less. Explains a behind-the-scenes source, "It's not just daytime that's been affected by the economy, it's prime-time and films, too. But if you're an actor, you just want to work — which can be frustrating if there are fewer jobs available. So if someone offers you a role, you take it and then worry about the money afterward. I think that many understand that this is a tough time in the business and deal with it. It's not the ideal time to bargain. Many are grateful to have a job, even if it's only short-term."

"If they bring back people for a short time, it's for less than what they used to make," echoes Bruno. "But it's like, 'Hey, in this economy, I'll take the money.' "
However, Mary Beth Evans, who recently exited DAYS, believes that money isn't always a factor when it comes to job security. "I'm no expert, but so much has to do with whoever the producer is and whoever the writer is at the time," she says. "That happens all the time. You can be the most popular character with one writer and that writer leaves and you don't work at all. That's just the way daytime is. When Ed [Scott, former co-executive producer] was at DAYS, he was a huge fan of Patch and Kayla, and we worked a lot during that time. It just goes in waves. But I don't begrudge anybody," she states. "They're doing what they think is right for the show right now."

But with so many beloved stars losing jobs, what's the outlook for the future? "I don't think that things are necessarily damaged," says Bruno. "I hope that as the economy stabilizes there will be more time spent negotiating salaries and less of the knee-jerk reaction of getting rid of people. I hope that things will turn around?"
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