Thursday, November 27, 2008

Soap budget cuts: Salvation or sign of the end?

(Small non-sequitur: I have updated my cross-over list and GLBT list and image gallery to reflect some late-in-2008 additions)

So, this last week brought revelations that NBC required a 40% budget cut (from print edition of Soap Opera Digest) from Days of Our Lives for renewal, and ABC has recently asked for up to 50% budget cuts from cast and consultants. Guiding Light had much publicized budget cuts last year (e.g., 50% cuts in writing staff; hence, the new production model). I think this is not a sign of hope ("teamwork to save the show"), but the futile last gasp.

It seems that Y&R and B&B aren't going through such horrible cuts. Are they being "saved" by relative success on the foreign sales market? My sense is that the official story is that foreign sales are nice, but "chump change". They do not apparently offset the bulk of US production costs. At the same time, when I look at the two most popular international shows (Bell shows), I (and others) seem to see them spending MORE not less money. Their ratings (esp. B&B) are not high enough that they should be protected from this economic downturn. So maybe the foreign dollars do matter?

I also assume that the production houses may be willing to take less long as they break even...during a downturn like this. So, this leads me to conclude that ABC and NBC and P&G are not even breaking even on their soaps?

Could Y&R and B&B more quietly be asking for pay cuts from their actors? I wondered if this was what he was alluding to in a recent interview...saying "I am happier with the storyline, I have to say. Much happier. I really mean that. I'm happy along those lines; along some other lines, no. But that's a different story."

I worry, actually, that when the pay cuts hit Y&R, we'll lose many of our starts. In recent years, Braeden, Scott, Woodland, Case, Morrow (others?) have all walked when contract negotiations fell apart. Heather Tom left the show when her pay cut (reduced guarantee; used less) happened.

I fear there are performers on Y&R who will just walk. Therefore...all the headlines that "Drake and Dee" are getting now....I expect them to repeat for "Eric and Melody" before the day is done. With that, the heart of these shows is expunged...and there seems little value in continuing to follow the empty shells that remain.

On the other hand, maybe the sheer scarcity of roles these days keeps some actors as a captive force on their shows. Is there another game in town?

I was actually in a situation in the last year where the economic downturn led to the issue of across-the-board paycuts being DISCUSSED. It's one thing to say theoretically, but when you suddenly have to live on less's a hard pill to swallow. Especially if you have the same workload.

With that in mind, however, you're more apt to swallow this if there is no other game in town...and if your previous earnings have not made you independently wealthy.

So, unfortuntely, this becomes the classic "over the barrel" scenario: Do it, or have no job....and good luck finding another. That is essentially what Ken Corday said about his show: "Demonstrate teamwork or... goodbye".

For me, in the end, this all feels like we're closer to the end than I thought (for the genre).

We see this in many failing industries. The last step is "employee concessions". In some industries (like air or automobile) it CAN work because there is a hope for economic recovery.

Not for soaps. Sure, there may be more advertisers in the future, but the advertising game has changed. They value broadcast advertising less. AND nothing happening here will bring back soap viewers. They're gone forever.

I really thing the Days scenario describes where all of daytime is headed. These massive cuts will eke out another 18 months or so...and then the shows are gone. We've seen it at Days/NBC, we're seeing it at ABC now, and we saw it last year and before with CBS/P&G. Only the Bell soaps seem less publically to be going through this. (Years ago, Shaughnessy said they were doing significant cost cutting, but it was their goal for us not to notice it on screen. That began the era of use of fewer sets....but these days we seem to see MORE sets).

In that sense, I think all this cost cutting is heroic, but ultimately futile.

Remember, all soaps are going to end by 2016 anyway (insert wan semi-smile)

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