Saturday, April 4, 2009

Jess Walton "hysteria"? I think not!

I adore Sara Bibel's blog. She has this no-bullshit way of cutting through the melodrama (a task I fail at) and sort of offering an incisive analysis. She is usually spot-on, because she blends industry knowledge, phenomenological experience from the Y&R creative team, and a history as a ratings analyst. That ivy-league education doesn't hurt either.

But Sara espoused something about the recent Jess Walton contract negotiations that I disagree with. (For those not following every twist, Y&R issued a recasting call for "Jill", ostensibly because Walton was 'under the weather'. Sources indicated, however, that it was really part of a tense negotiation between Walton and Sony/Bell/Y&R in which TPTB sought to lower Walton's episode guarantee and/or rate. The recast notice was publicized by Soap Opera Digest last Friday, but by late Monday, initial word came that Walton had re-signed. In other words, one side or both blinked).

Sara said this:

Jess Walton is leaving The Young & The Restless because she’s sick! No, it’s because the show is going to cut her appearances to once a month and her salary to minimum wage! Deidre Hall is going to take over the role. No, Anna Stuart. Actually, Jessica Lange and Goldie Hawn are going to dye their hair and split the role in a casting coup. Even though the show can’t afford Walton. Wait, Walton just signed a new deal. Nevermind.

As for l’affaire de Walton, it seems like it was a standard contract negotiation that unfortunately played out in the press. Unfortunately, everyone in daytime is being asked to take pay cuts these days. Hell, everyone in America is. Nobody likes them. Rest assured, your favorite soap star won’t be showing up at your local food bank anytime soon. They’re still making six figures, just less than they were before. Soaps often take the step of putting out casting calls for recasts when actors balk. It isn’t a friendly tactic. Sometimes it backfires (see Byrne, Martha). But, it often makes people sign on the dotted line. That’s what happened here. The winner, in this case, in the audience who gets to keep watching Walton in the meatiest storyline she has had in years.
Hmmm. Internet over-reaction? Excessive support for an actress during 'customary' negotiations? After all, she won't go hungry (says the previously self-titled 'unemployed' writer).

My view on this is completely different. I think that "l'affaire Walton" demonstrates the new engaged, activist audience, and there are many lessons in the furious weekend of Walton scribblings. At Soap Opera Network, half the posters changed their avatars to Walton images for the weekend!

For the record, the word "hysteria" I use below is the connotation I took from Bibel's piece (and other writers and posters from the same period), and is NOT a quote.

1. Fans had a right to mistrust. A frequent term was the "ABC-Dification of Y&R"...used to refer to the fact that veterans on ABC have been set to recurring or low guarantees...and then become non-viable. This has happened trans-genre.
2. It was compounded by the fact that the LUMINOUS, REMARKABLE, BEST-WORK-OF-HER-CAREER Walton was finally back on the front burner after five years of -- ahem -- misguided storytelling. Now, finally, when Michael Jordan is back and scoring, you're gonna even THREATEN to cut him from the team? This part of the fan response was simply an expression of love -- not hysteria.
3. Y&R itself has a relatively recent history of "botching" (in the fan mind) many of these tense negotiations. While opinions are mixed, the loss of Heather Tom and Victoria Rowell is attributed by many to an unproductively unflinching TPTB. Injudicious cast cutting, in the eyes of some, cost us Jerry Douglas and Don Diamont. Ridiculous inflexibility led to long hiatuses for fan faves like Melody Thomas Scott (who reportedly cleared out her dressing room), Eric Braeden, Joshua Morrow, and Sharon Case. Nobody wanted that for "Jill", the sole "legacy character" who has been there from the beginning.
4. It is true that the news about the negotiations was remarkably 'real time'. Just a few years ago, I'd get my news about 'tense negotiations' from Soap Opera Digest, and by the time I read it, a new deal had already been made. Therefore, it is quite a sign of journalistic evolution that the news now was immediate. Was the fan response "hysteria". In my opinion, the new era of real-time news means that the fans were co-participants in the negotiation! Like a papal nomination, we were thronging outside the Vatican, looking for the color of the smoke.
5. "Tense" negotiations, eh? But they got resolved over a weekend! During that period, many people -- informed by the real time news -- sent notes of protest and support to CBS, Bell, Sony and Walton. One source (another fallacious internet rumor? maybe?) indicates to me that these notes DID reach TPTB, and that some executives WERE surprised at the level of pro-Walton support.

Let's pretend the last point is true? Maybe the fan voices ("hysteria"), in some small way, shifted the valence of the negotiations. Maybe the fan voices made it just a little harder for TPTB to maintain the claim to Walton of "you can be easily replaced". Maybe, just maybe, "hysterical" fans helped prevent the kind of painful, damaging, protracted negotations (often with "bad" outcomes from a fan perspective) that happened before?

Who knows. Even if the fan voices were irrelevant, one cannot underestimate the powerful well-being benefits of a little self-efficacy and locus of control. The illusion of playing a small role in affecting an outcome is -- itself -- a wonderful thing. If that weren't true, why else would many of us go out and vote in elections?

In the end, though, I love happy endings! Glad you're sticking around, Jess!

PS: Ms Walton, I hope you have given up smoking! (A lot of us were scared by that 'under the weather' comment)

1 comment:

June said...

Jess is one of my favorite daytime actresses. No one does Jill like Jess