Exposé: ABC Seeks Special Waiver From WGA Allowing Them to Skirt Writer Guarantees!

Multiple sources have confirmed to Daytime Confidential.com that ABC Daytime has approached the Writers Guild of America (WGA) requesting a special waiver allowing them to disregard guarantees already promised writers as a part of their current, respective contracts, in order to cut up to 20 scripted episodes a year from each of their three soap operas— All My Children, One Life to Live and General Hospital— to be replaced with classic episodes.

"ABC is basically saying, if you don’t give us the waiver, we’ll have no choice but to start firing writers on each show," says one source.

The timing for ABC’s move has proven to be a cause for alarm for many in the industry, considering the current Minimum Basic Agreement (MBA) between the WGA and the Alliance of Motion Picture & Television Producers (AMPTP) expires May 1, 2011.

"A lot of people are wondering if ABC is doing this now in order to strengthen their position before it’s time to start negotiating a new contract with the Guild in about six months," says a network insider.

ABC reportedly gave the WGA a deadline of August to decide to allow the waiver, or they will reportedly fire at least one writer on each show. That month, the network plans to start airing its first round of "classic episodes" promoting the return of Vanessa Marcil to General Hospital.

On Tuesday, July 13—following my initial  Rumor Report on July 12 concerning ABC allegedly wanting to cut as many as 20 new, scripted episodes per year, per soap— ABC Daytime released a press release confirming classic episodes featuring General Hospital character Brenda Barrett (Marcil) and the "men in her life", Sonny (Maurice Benard), Jax (Ingo Radamacher) and Jason (Steve Burton) will "own the ABC Daytime drama block from 1:00-3:00 PM, ET on Tuesday, August 10."

"ABC is really betting the whole house on Vanessa’s return," says one mole.

Promoting the return of Marcil and other "classic" ABC Daytime couples isn’t the only reason for ABC Daytime’s alleged decision to cut down their order of scripted episodes. As I previously reported, shaving production costs is the major factor.

"ABC sees this as something that will help to keep the soaps on the air," says a source. "People are really split. Some feel like, ‘hey, whatever. Do what you need to do to keep all three soaps on the air’, while others are ticked off. With SOAPnet going off in a year and a half, the soaps’ employees are already losing those residuals, and they’ve already endured massive cuts."

One insider pointed out that daytime writers make only a fraction for their work what their primetime counterparts make, and don’t have the luxury of having money coming in from DVD sales or residuals as a cushion.

"People think daytime writers make a lot of money, but they really don’t," says the source. "The minimum pay for a primetime script is about 10 times more than the pay for a daytime script. When you factor in taxes, agents, managers and the cost of living in LA, most daytime writers are making a decent, middle class living, but they certainly aren’t getting rich like most people think."

Keep checking back with Daytime Confidential.com as this story continues to develop…



57 Responses

  1. Profile photo of TV Gord
    TV Gord

    An interesting dilemma. Will the union give in to save jobs, but at the same time lose some of their power? Will they stand their ground and hope their membership will understand that some jobs may have to be sacrificed in order to maintain a strong position in the union-management negotiations?

    Man, if the soaps had storylines this compelling, they might not be in the trouble they’re in these days!

  2. Profile photo of curacaoman

    ABC does need to fire writers on all three shows, but in order to HIRE NEW ONES!
    The headwriters on all 3 shows need to go, then, with good stories that attract viewers, no budget cuts will be necessary!

  3. Profile photo of TV Gord
    TV Gord

    No problem, curacaoman. It was worth saying twice! ;-) It IS ridiculous how they have the same few players on the chess board that they keep moving around. How much new blood do they ever recruit onto the writing teams? And do they welcome new and different ideas or do the newbies get indoctrinated to churn out the same ol’ same ol’… (sigh)

  4. Profile photo of craigcp

    I wish they would do something like that on CBS remaining soaps, they are a mess, some heads need to roll there too. But their ratings are still good, lord I don’t know why. CBS is slowly killing them. Just shoot them now and put them out of there misery.

  5. Profile photo of Silver44

    “ABC is really betting the whole house on Vanessa’s return,” says one mole.

    This belief is what is wrong with ABC daytime and what in the end will kill it.

  6. Profile photo of kitty

    Sorry, I hve no sympathy for the writers. No way do I buy that they are “middle class”. The daytime genre is dying, either step up and be part of the solution, or get out of the way. I don’t know of anyone who hasn’t had their income affected in one way or the other by the current economy, why should daytime be any different?

  7. Profile photo of Nathang1983

    I completely agree, Kitty. I’ve had it with the crappy writing on Y&R, and Days isn’t much better. They need new blood on all the soaps. They need to start making cuts to casts, to headwriters, and everything else they can cut.

  8. Profile photo of Nathang1983

    The catch is that they must cut the right cast members. Sometimes they do, sometimes they don’t. Getting rid of non-core characters and putting others on recurring would do the trick for me. I’ll wait and see.

  9. Profile photo of soapster

    What I want to know is actually what is the exact middle income figure that daytime writers are making less than 100k. I agree with Kitty I am not feeling sorry for them atall, you want to make primetime money then find a job in primetime. Elementary teachers make less than college professors, detectives make more than beat cops this is nothing new the higher up on the ladder the more money you put in your pocket.

  10. Profile photo of keanna

    I say fire Frons, first!!!! I also say just don’t hire new writers, hire new writers that will honor the history and integrity of the soaps. Bring in more diversity and showcase everybody, get rid of useless characters and go from there.

  11. Profile photo of Nathang1983

    Amen, Keanna! :) I think someone mentioned on this site several months ago (I know I read it somewhere) that NBC has no daytime head-honcho. They would save money by cutting out the “middle-man” and firing Brian Frons and Barbara Bloom. They do nothing but micromanage the soaps anyway.
    I agree about there needing to be more diversity, but I would say that they don’t need to hire any more actors/actresses at all. They need to save money, so putting people on recurring and paring the casts would be more realistic.

  12. Profile photo of miamibeachguy

    wow I didn’t think head writers made that much — seems sort of counter-productive to keeping the shows on the air but i guess they need to earn their pay while they still can!

  13. Profile photo of nysam

    Not sure where the writer researched to get his info on soap writers being “middle class”. Having worked in the business head writers traditionally get $1 millon. In the hey day of soaps it was $2 million or more. The breakdown and script writers range from about $130k – $500k depending on how long they have been on their shows. They get bumps regardless of their material being good or not. Most writers only write one breakdown or script a week. It doesn’t equate to a full 5 day work week. Many writers churn out their breakdowns or scripts in 2 – 3 days. They certainly aren’t working the hours that the average American does of 9 – 5 (if not longer hours) Monday – Friday. On top of it most of them work from the comfort of their homes and don’t have to deal with working in an office environment.

    Last time I checked $130k or even $100k isn’t considered middle class.

  14. Profile photo of MPS

    Heck, I’d be happy to write for a show for $100,000 a year. I could probably come up with something new too. But yes, please, Fire GUZA!

  15. Profile photo of BigGangster321

    great article. fire frons. get rid of that damn “Middle-Man”. if these classic episodes about brenda that prempt AMC and OLTL bomb in the ratings then all these other classics will do so most likely and ABC will have major EGG on their face

  16. Profile photo of alstonboy4315

    Seriously, any Tom, Dick or Raheim can write a soap opera. It just takes a little common sense, insight, a sense of humor, and an ability to admit when you are wrong and change course QUICKLY, before you capsize the whole freaking ship!!

    And I think that headwriters make a LITTLE more than $100,000 a year—they probably earn that per MONTH. And yes I am shaking my head in absolute disgust as I write that.

    What other job do you get REWARDED for writing foolishness and displaying utter INCOMPETENCE at every turn??? I am in the wrong damned business. I need to become a soap writer. Where can I fill out an application???????

  17. Profile photo of Jamey Giddens
    Jamey Giddens

    nysam,  most shows have forced the majority of writers to go back to WGA minimums. Some showrunners are now opting to use "half guarantees" where script writers can make as little as $70,000. Sure, there are still writers who rake it in, but as with anything, this likely won’t effect them. The low writers on the totem pole will likely be the sacrificial lambs.

  18. Profile photo of TV Gord
    TV Gord

    This is why I prefer not to know what anyone makes for a living. Now, I’m pissed off. $32,000 a week for the contrived, derivative drivel that they churn out? Feh!

  19. Profile photo of nysam

    Jamey, please look at the credits on the soaps and tell me who “low writers on the totem pole” might be. Breaking into writing is notoriously difficult. 80% of the writers on these shows have been in the business 15 years if not more. Even the newest of “writers” have been around for 5 years or more. I don’t see many new writers breaking in. If they are “low on the totem pole” it’s probably because they are new to the industry and don’t have the experience. If that is the case I would still argue that $70k for 2 – 3 days of work from home is pretty darn good. That’s more money than my friends who are school teachers or friends in the military.

  20. Profile photo of HarleyCooper

    I don’t think this should be a referendum on writers’ salaries or the quality of writing because this has nothing to do with job performance. It’s about ABC threatening to change the terms of a union-negotiated contract and dangling writers’ jobs off the cliff. They want to get cheaper and they do it by putting the screws to the people who make the least money.

    If anybody in soaps deserves sympathy it’s the script and breakdown writers. All the big decisions on storyline are being made by the well-paid headwriters – with lots of interference/input from the network, producers, and other henchmen.

    The underlings have to actually write the crappy stories, whether they like them or not! They write a hell of a lot more than the primetime writers do. 24 eps a year vs upwards of 200. And their job gets harder every year because there are simply fewer writers being hired to write scripts and breakdowns.

    This is a pretty effective tactic in ABC’s strategy to make soaps cheaper. It’s the old canard used by employers when they move overseas – “we promise you’ll keep your job if we pay you less.” However, more than half the time that postpones the inevitable, moving the factory overseas. (ABC actually did the physical move bit as well. One Life is gone people…)

    I think lots could be done to save soaps, but getting cheaper/fewer shows are only short term solutions. Long term solution is whether soaps live. Do the networks believe The End of Soaps is inevitable? Do they plan to string everyone along, knowing full well that they’re moving to Mexico or China? If yes, then short term solutions are just head fakes, not solutions.

    Jamey knows the networks’ answer to this better than I do, from real sources. My opinion is that CBS accepts the end as inevitable. And ABC accepts the end is almost inevitable, with the “almost” being that it may air one soap or air two online. Just a hunch.

  21. Profile photo of HarleyCooper

    If anyone wants to read an entertaining, insightful description of how an episode is written see former Days writer Tom Casiello’s old blog right after he got hired to write for Y&R.


    Most jobs in the world are way worse than soap writer, I agree. But if I had to spend say, 5 years writing scripts for the Nick/Sharon/Phyllis triangle… I’d probably want to gouge my eyes out. If I had to write the shitstorm known as AMC over the last 5 years, telling those stories…no thanks, I’ll keep my job.

  22. Profile photo of nysam

    Jamey, please define “low writers on the totem pole.” Writing for soaps is notoriously difficult to break into. Looking over the credits of the shows on the air 80% of the writers have been in the industry for 15+ years (many even longer). Very few writers working on soaps today are new. A handful maybe. These writers low on the totem pole probably get paid less because they lack the experience. I would argue that $70k annually for working 2 to 3 days from home is a bad salary. I have friends that are in the military and who are school teachers who do a lot more work for a lot less money.

  23. Profile photo of nysam

    Harley, do you really think that a profession that is so lowly paid needs to have agents or a union? Writers are not paid poorly. If they are so poorly paid then why don’t most of the writers give up their jobs and go get better paying gigs elsewhere? Look at the shows and the credits. These writers have been around for years blocking new blood from getting in there because the money is good. In 2010 it might not be the same as it was in 2005 or 1999, but welcome to the real world. Whose profession pays the same as it did 10 years ago? I know I have taken pay cuts and so have many of my friends. Welcome to the real world. I love my soaps, but this isn’t a fantasy world we are living in anymore. If it means keeping the soaps on longer go ahead and cut writer’s salaries. Maybe then some of these people will quit and some new blood can come in, but I doubt they will quit.

  24. Profile photo of soapster

    the lowest writer making 70,000 a year and headwriters making 32,000 a wk no I am not feeling sorry for them at all. It still seems like a great gig, thanks NYSam for the info I kinda figure they had a cozy little thing going for them.

    I have no idea why we keep getting the comparison to primetime writers, in primetime most of these writers would be unemployed with the content that they submit. I am just shaking my head that these people are actually getting paid for the uninspired, cheap mostly recycled and copied work that they do.

    It is funny that the article states that these writers are not as well off as we think I do believe they are and with the cuts coming up they will remain so.

  25. Profile photo of soapster

    NYSa you are my hero, everywhere you look people are taking pay cuts or not receiving their annual union raises to keep their jobs that is the reality of the situation why should soap writers be exempt for the equation.

    I am sorry Harley but as a union worker that tactic has been in used since the beginning of unions for the last six years every time a contract ends members are threatened with job lost, less benefits so no I am not feeling sorry for script/breakdown writers who are better off than the average worker.

    As far as writing crappy storylines they are part of the problem

  26. Profile photo of Jamey Giddens
    Jamey Giddens

    I am not saying soap writers are living in cardboard boxes. What I am saying is the producers signed a Minimum Basic Agreement with them at the end of the Strike that was supposed to protect them from having their minimums renegotiated at whim. That’s why we have unions in this country, to protect a fair wage. And of course the military and teachers make less. My mother is career military, she was in Iraq the day I graduated from college, so you are preaching to the choir, but it’s apples and oranges to even compare.

    What soldiers get paid has nothing to do with soap writers. Soaps are products that generate revenue, even in these times, millions of dollars of revenue. I’m much more upset about people like Brian Frons and Barbara Bloom, who have systematically dismantled their lineups and in the case of Frons, a cable channel to boot, making millions of dollars a year for their efforts than I am a script writer getting paid $3200 a script. 
    Also the notion that "anyone can write a soap" is a fantasy. Sure, I do a million Wishful Castings, but churning out an actual shootable 80-page script a week, that will be picked apart by a team of writers, one or two head writers, then possibly to be rejected by the network and sent back to the drawing board, is not a breezy job. A fun job? Sure, I think we all could say we’d trade places, but it’s not an easy job that someone can "do in their sleep".
    Primetime writers work 5-months-a-year. Daytime writing teams have to write what are essentially full-length novels week after week. And they don’t just work on their scripts. Many help layout and breakdown their peers scripts as well.

  27. Profile photo of Ryan-Scott

    In regards to soap writing, I will never forget what Michael Malone likened it to: walking a tightrope with the network and sponsors on each end trying to shake it.

  28. Profile photo of Ryan-Scott

    And I do not get the “It’s expensive for the writers to live in Los Angeles” line.

    Many writers work from home and do not live in Los Angeles.
    I am friends with one writer and he has told me the only time he sees the other writers is at Christmas parties and the Emmys.
    And talking on the conference calls.

  29. Profile photo of kitty

    Even the low man on the totem pole is making a pretty penny considering they aren’t working the typical 40+ hour week. Daytime soaps are struggling to survive. While I would prefer them changing the content and who they focus on, at least this is an attempt by TPTB to try and save them. Personally, if I was a writer, I think I would prefer to make a little less money than to have my entire genre eliminated. Those who this change will really affect is the hard working crew on these shows. When these shows are dark, those are the people who don’t get a paycheck. For the crew, this is just more unpaid time, on top of the weeks of unpaid time they already get, while others, like writers and directors were still getting paid.

  30. Profile photo of soapster

    Jamey I hear what you are saying and I am not hating on anyone making the dollars that they are but I am not feeling sorry for them either. What I am saying is that at this time millions of workers are getting their contracts renegotiated with in order to keep their jobs it is a sign of the times amd most aren’t making 32,000 a script they are making that a year and having to live in “expensive LA” also.

    And writing for a soap still sounds like a “breezy job” especially when you get to work from home at your leisure and that 80 page script can be written in seven days and the only drawback is other writers critiquing your work or getting rejected by the networks.

    And now that I know more of what goes into writing a soap I am more upset with the storylines that actually make it to screen especially with all the scrutiny they have to go to pass muster.

  31. Profile photo of soapster

    Do primetime writers get paid for when they aren’t writing if not I still don’t get the comparison. It’s like the majors and the minors league in sports.

  32. Profile photo of Dariclone

    Even though the writers make *way* more money than I’ve ever seen, I still don’t think it’s fair of Frons and pals to go this so-called “classic episode”route to get out of paying the writers what they promised in the first place. If ABC supposedly can’t afford it, they shouldn’t’ve agreed to it in the first place.

  33. Profile photo of TV Gord
    TV Gord

    Good response, Jamey. Thought-provoking. I know it’s not as easy as all that to write for soaps (contrary to what many think, they’re not made up as they go along). I stick by my point earlier, though, that–for the amount of money they’re being paid–we should be seeing more originality on soaps. How many storylines are rehashed from old storylines, or attempts to ripoff the latest movies or High School Musicals. Truly original ideas on soaps are few and far between.

    Incidentally, I’m amused by the references to unions I’m seeing. I’ve been working for more than 30 years. I’ve never had to belong to a union and I’ve never had to take a pay cut (nor have I ever had my salary frozen). I know unions are good in some cases, but I’ve been happy I never had to join one!

  34. Profile photo of nysam

    Primetime writers do not get paid when shows are on hiatus. To compare daytime to primetime isn’t a fair comparison. In many ways writing for daytime has been a steadier job. If you are a writer on a soap you most likely write 1 breakdown or 1 script a week, sometimes 2. That is about 50 breakdowns or scripts annually. Using Jamey’s figure of $3200 above that comes out to $160,00. Primetime shows come and go so steady work is hard to come by and if you are lucky a primetime show gets a 22 episode order (that is rare these days). There is more risk working in primetime because shows get cancelled left and right. Usually with more risk comes higher rewards. Not to mention advertising goes for more in primetime than it does in daytime so there is more money to spend on the creative.

    Whatever ABC “promised” the writers after the strike was in Spring 2008. Did everyone forget what happened in Fall 2008? A little itty bitty thing called a recession. The worst our country had seen in years. All bets were off and are still off. Welcome to the new world.

  35. Profile photo of Jamey Giddens
    Jamey Giddens

    Welcome to the new world.
    You’re absolutely right, a new world where ABC Daytime’s top guy  was just forced to cede a soap opera-themed cable channel back to Disney, so that they can turn it into Disney Junior, because he didn’t know how to make the channel successful.

    If ABC is really having such a budget crunch, eliminate Brian Frons’ multi-million dollar a year position and let Anne Sweeney  manage the lineup as part of her other duties. Why should script writers, who make considerably less and can only create from the long stories written by much higher paid writers, have to be the ones to bear the brunt of corporate mismanagement and a bad economy?

  36. Profile photo of nysam

    Anne isn’t interested in the soap genre. If she truly believed in it as a business she would have let Frons go years ago when there was still a fighting chance. It seems she is content in keeping Frons and maintaining the status quo. The audience has eroded. Old fans are dying off and aren’t being replaced by new ones. Women are in the work place more than ever and the soap tradition isn’t being passed down. Not to mention there is a lot more competition from cable networks.

    I still think writers “low on the totem pole” are paid quite well.

    Jamey, did you ever try to work in the soap industry or have you always preferred judging it?

  37. Profile photo of sassysdreams

    nysam – Women may be working more than ever and there may be a lot more competition from cable networks but have you looked to see what is on from 1PM – 4PM weekdays? ABSOLUTELY NOTHING! Reruns, game shows, news, shopping channels and a lot of nonsense – none of it any good in my opinion. When the soaps are off due to a holiday or a fake holiday like July 5th, there’s not much else to choose from across the board, cable channels included. Most of the women I know that work during the day either tape/DVR the soaps they watch or watch them on SoapNet at night but the Nelsons don’t count those and in about a year they will all be using tape/DVR since ABC/Disney cancelled the SoapNet channel. At this present time if ABC took the soaps off the air I would simply turn off my television and listen to music instead!! |(

  38. Profile photo of soapster

    I am sorry Sassy but there are tons of things to watch during the day I for one am hooked on the law and order marathons that I never saw during their first runs, most of my friends stay glued to hgtv and cooking channels and there is a thing call on demand that lets you watch whatever you want when you want. I work nights and watch what I missed at night during the day. There are plenty of other choices during the hours of 1-4pm, there is far from “ABSOLUTELY NOTHING” on which is the reason why the audience is thinning out.

    I think Frons needs to go along with other higher paid employees but that is not happening I just can’t feel sorry for someone whose contract is being renegotiated yet able to keep their high paying job when millions aren’t even being given that option and just being fired.

  39. Profile photo of FaisonFanInTexas

    We don’t ALL get the same programming, people! Sassys’ right, thee’s nothing but CRAP on 1-4pm. I don’t care about Maury, Oprah, game shows, shopping club and the otherr stuff that is on at that time. I’d rather just bust out the MP3.

  40. Profile photo of soapster

    Faison really what does that have to do with anything the fact that so little a percentage of the viewing audience are watching soaps just proves that there is other things capturing the attention of tv watchers.

    There was a time when daytime soap operas and their fans ruled daytime airwaves but not any more. Millions of other viewers have tuned out and onto something else. So what you and others deem crap millions of others deem worthy and it probably consider soaps crap and unwatchable.

  41. Profile photo of rnbabes

    [quote=Jamey Giddens]

    Many daytime script writers are making less than $100 K a year now. Head writers make a king and queen’s ransom, but script and breakdown writers don’t.

    They should be the first to go b/c they are the ones that allow the garbag that we are seeing on air.

  42. Profile photo of rnbabes

    IA, Anne isn’t interested in the soaps. Yes she continue to have BFrons and Guza destroy the soap. I kinda feel for the writers that have to work with theses two people. They are about themselves and the power that they have. Frons and Guza is willing to destroy who and what to show this power. Now all the employee on soapnet is out of a job. This is really sad.

    Now the writers are going to pay and they are trying to destroy the unions. If BFrons is successful in this, Frons will get the biggest bonus ever.

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