While daytime dramas might be among the hardest hit sectors in entertainment, the ripple effects continue to spread in prime time, too. Among the more high profile moves, NBC gave Jay Leno it's entire 10PM time slot block Mondays through Fridays starting this fall in an effort to save massive amounts of cash: The Tonight Show, which is expected to be the model for the "new" Leno show, costs about $2 million per week to produce compared to $35 million for a typical week's worth of prime time dramas.
Now comes news from Entertainment Weekly'sMichael Ausiello that CBS is basically asking its stars to not negotiate salary increases (in effect, a salary freeze) for some of the network's top tier shows:
CBS Paramount is asking the on-air talent on the majority of its dramas to forgo their annual raises and keep their salaries flat next season. (Multiyear contracts typically have standard yearly increases built in.) The unprecedented move, part of an overall cost-cutting measure, is an effort to keep budgets down at the CSIs, NCIS, Numb3rs, and their kin, and prevent further behind-the-scenes layoffs. (CBS dramas produced by outside studios -- i.e., Ghost Whisperer, The Mentalist, and Without a Trace -- won't be affected.)
The article then immediately brings up what I like to call "The Kim Zimmer Paradigm":
"Some [of these TV] leads won't accept a freeze," says a showrunner at a rival network, who adds that while the studio can't fire them outright, they can decide not to pick up their contract option at the end of the season. The likelier scenario, however, is that a cut will be made somewhere else on the show. "The leverage they will use is 'Freeze your already ludicrously high salary, or watch a bunch of your coworkers lose their jobs.'"
Sound like familiar territory, soap fans? With one notable difference: when it comes to daytime, media reports have made it seem as if the networks like ABC are simply slashing actor salaries like those of Susan Lucci and their entire daytime lineups wholesale with little or no negotiation, or cut the liscensing fees to the production companies that actually produce the shows. Meanwhile, CBS is "asking" its prime time stars to not ask for more money, pretty please with a cherry on top. In other words, daytime performers nonetheless are being asked to sacrifice significant portions of their salary, but prime time stars are being asked to not ask for more money on top of what they are already making. The double standard for daytime strikes again.
None of this should be a great shock to anyone, with the near collapse of auto industry advertising, massive job layoffs, major companies shutting down across the country, and media stocks like Time Warner and Disney (ABC's parent company) swirling in the toilet. Even NBC's telecast of the Super Bowl, the hottest advertising ticket on television, had problems finding advertisers although the network eventually raked in record ad dollars. Why do you think we saw so many ads for NBC shows and its subsidiaries during the big game?
Daytime was groud zero for a lot of the cuts and changes we've seen recently which are now rippling farther out to prime time and beyond. Even British soaps like the venerable and nationally beloved Eastenders are seeing budget cuts. With an ever worsening economy for the foreseeable future, we're going to see a lot more cost cutting bombshells that will hit not just prime time, but — as I continue to warn — many of our soaps as well.
AUTHOR'S UPDATE/CLARIFICATION: Apologies, gentle readers. Previous language in this post inadvertently and erroneously gave the impression that ABC has mandated across the board budget cuts for its current on air talent without negotiation. This is not the case. In editing, I accidently removed language that clarified that many mainstream media reports of ABC's position gives the appearance of instituting wholesale cuts; ABC has not mandated these cuts with "little or no" negotiation. ABC is waiting for actors' contracts to come up for renegotiation before asking for the cuts, whereas CBS is asking many of its prime time stars simply to not ask for raises. This language has been reinstituted into the text. Thanks to Jamey Giddens for calling it to my attention!