Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Occupy Your Conscience

Today, We Love Soaps announced that Prospect Park is still talking about picking up One Life To Live and All My Children and turn them into web-based programs. We all know - some of us always knew - that this is a financial impossibility, based on what it costs to produce each hour-long, daily show, 52 weeks a year. And that's what Prospect Park promised. When this whole, hair-brained plot was made public, PP wrote a check they couldn't cash: they promised to keep producing hour-long episodes, of the same production quality viewers were used to, with the same cast, to run every day, 52 weeks a year. Those of us who stopped to think about that for half a second knew it would never happen. We knew it COULD never happen. Not like that. Of course, we were taking for granted that "the same high production values" implied using the same, union labor. Last week, when Prospect park quietly let go of the idea of taking these shows online, there was a lot of talk of union negotiations having fallen apart.

Stop and think about this for a minute - if PP is saying that the only think keeping them from moving these long-running shows to the web was a union issue, what they're really saying is, "We wanted to cut people's salaries and benefits, but we expected the same amount of work, and the same caliber of work from them."

Over the last 10-15 years, budgets for daytime drama have plummeted. Everyone has taken massive pay cuts - even the most bankable actors. Production costs have been slashed to the bare bones, and we've all read about how actors no longer even have rehearsal time - too expensive! And PP wanted to move in an make further cuts?

If this weren't a television production we were discussing, but a construction project, how would you feel about this proposition? If I said to you, "I want to build a skyscraper, but I want to save money. I know the construction workers used to make $50 an hour, and that they've gone to $40 in the last few years, but I'm thinking I'll pay them $30 an hour. Maybe cut their lunch hour down to 30 minutes, and make them buy their own hammers and nails. And I'll expect them to put up a building as quickly and as well as I would have expected at full wage and with full benefits and the best equipment." - what would you think? If someone presented that proposition to me I'd think they were a cheap bastard looking to exploit labor, and I'd make a note to never go into their building, because I'd have some serious doubts about the quality of the construction.

Prospect Park's "negotiations" with the various trade unions are no different. Because of this, I was glad the announcement was made last week about the abandonment of this project. I would have liked to have seen these shows continue, but not at the expense of workers' rights.

Today, We Love Soaps announced that PP may well still be in discussions about their plan to bring OLTL and AMC to the web. Instead of dealing with the unions, though:

"Prospect Park is said to be considering bringing in an overseas firm to turn the shows into a co-production. That may or may not allow the shows to circumvent the unions, which couldn't come to terms with Prospect Park on compensation for talent on both sides of the camera."
Take that in: "may allow them to circumvent the unions."

Just to make sure we're on the same page, I'll spell this out for you: "circumventing the unions" is a nice way of saying "fuck the workers, fuck their union protection, fuck their minimum wage, fuck their benefits, fuck their job safety." It's a way of saying that, if trade unions won't fold and give up whatever protections they've fought long and hard to secure for their members, Prospect Park will gladly hire scabs who will do the work cheaper. It's even saying they'll be happy to pick up these projects and film them elsewhere, where union rules don't apply.

I don't care how much you love these shows,
In an economy where the little guy is getting fucked over in every way possible,
For writers, actors, and technical crew people who deserve fair wages and benefits,

If someone came into your workplace and tried this, you'd be livid. And you should be. Because this is bullshit. I've loved soaps my whole life but, for the love of God, how can anyone think it is ok for the big, bad PP to muscle in and tell professionals that their services are worthless, that the employment rights they've fought for are meaningless, and that they can be easily replaced with cheap labor? Forget this is a tv show we're talking about. Think about it happening in a store, or a school, or a hospital, or any other workplace. This is the same shit that pisses people off about American corporations setting up shop in Thailand and paying pennies for labor that, under American union rules, would and should cost dollars. Forget these are tv shows - they're businesses. Workplaces. Forget these are writers and actors and camera operators and editors and makeup men. They're workers. Labor. They work, and they deserve a fair wage and benefits.

Check your conscience before being happy about this development. Is your love of soap operas really worth fucking over the concepts of fair compensation, workplace security, and union protection?


Columbus said...


Excellent blog.

Richard Simms said...

It's nice to see soap lovers who can look past their love of the genre to see the realities of what Prospect Park has been trying to do from day one. Fantastic piece. A million kudos.