How actors get paid on soaps – a refresher

Actors are paid a per-episode fee. It is a mutually agreed-upon amount. If, for example, you agreed to $1,000 per episode, some contracts stipulate that there is a minimum number of episodes per year that you are guaranteed. Let’s say that number is 50. So your contract would guarantee you $50,000 for that year. The show may (and they can, and often do) use you more than that, and still pay you $1,000 per episode. So if they end up using you in 100 episodes, your actual income would be $100,000. But your guarantee is $50,000, and even if they don’t use you in 50 episodes, you still make $50,000.

Recurring characters also get paid per episode. The difference is that they are not guaranteed a certain number of episodes per year. It is open-ended. And of course, both you and the show can quit any time. So the recurring (or non-contract) actor might also have a per-episode fee of $1,000 but they have no way of predicting how much or how little they might actually make in a year. A recurring character who is paid less per episode but is used more throughout the year could actually end up making more money in that year than a contracted actor with a low number of guaranteed episodes.

Still with me?

If an actor does not have a guaranteed number of episodes, or a “limit” then they are on a recurring basis. So the show can use him or her in as many or as few episodes per year as they want or can afford. Technically they still have a contract. It’s just a different kind of contract.

That’s why you hear that some actors are “recurring” and some are “on contract” and the occasional reference to someone being “over their limit”.

If your per-episode fee remains the same, but you appear in fewer episodes, it may result in a “pay cut”. You may earn less in total this year than you did the year before, and that is, for all practical purposes, a pay cut.

Most of the time, when an actor refers to a pay cut or pay raise, they are referring to their per-episode fee. However, some actors look at the total year’s salary and say they had a pay cut or a pay raise. Some actors don’t want to take a cut in their per-episode pay, knowing that their show might use them in fewer episodes in order to comply with a budget cut but that is a risk they are willing to take.

The advantage – to the show and the actor – to having an actor agree to a pay cut per episode is that the network or studio can say “See! We are tough negotiators and we are making people take pay cuts to meet our budget.” While the show can say, “That’s nice, but we can juggle things around so that we can still have them as often as we want them.” And the actor, who is now more affordable, can be in more episodes and say “I did my part and took a pay cut for the good of the show.” But at the end of the year he still made more than he did last year, (or the same), so that ‘pay cut’ didn’t really affect him or her.

Of course, the contracts are generally written in favor of the studio, so if you agree to a per-episode pay cut, and they don’t use you more throughout the year, you earn less. Or if you stand your ground and refuse a per-episode pay cut, they may also use you less throughout the year. Which is also a pay cut. In one scenario, however, it looks like you are cooperating and helpful (and might be rewarded for that) and in the other scenario it looks like you are unyielding and difficult (and you might be punished for that).

Also, by the time an actor pays SAG dues, an agent, a manager, a publicist and the crazy taxes in California, their take-home pay is half or less than half of what they get paid. At the end of the day, the vast majority of them are not wealthy.

These bits of arcane knowledge about actors’ contracts are public information, but I also have a friend in the industry who works with this stuff all the time (not for CBS). And I have picked her brain :)

This does not mean that my explanation above is all there is to know about it or that it applies in every case. It just seems timely every now and then to dust off the discussion to try to clear up a few misconceptions.

Related Posts

This entry was posted in Young and the Restless in General. Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to How actors get paid on soaps – a refresher

  1. adamlives says:

    Thanks ElliEmma for clearing things up. The more I think about it the more I understand concerns that MTS might be manipulating or deceiving her fanbase by getting them to demand that they put her on the show for more episodes. This would be a way for her to circumvent the studio’s power to curtail her earnings by limiting her episodes while adhering to her higher per-episode fee. I want to believe that she wouldn’t do something like that, but it wouldn’t surprise me.

    The perception of whether or not certain actors took pay cuts sounds very political. So for example, the “paycut” that Eric Braeden accepted last year was promoted as a huge sacrifice for him, but in reality this cooperation on his part might have been mutually beneficial for both him and the studio. He still has to work more (appear in more episodes) to reach or exceed his pay from the previous year so he is essentially doing more work for the same money he might have gotten before for less work. To be fair, that is still a sacrifice. MTS on the otherhand refused to accept the lower per-episode fee, and the studios therefore reserve their right to use her in fewer episodes, which makes sense from a practical standpoint. MTS, on the otherhand is making the case on her tweets that she did not know this was the case which is very hard to believe given all her experience in the business (of course she is not admiting to having the high per-episode fee the newstory purports her to have). The studios are in essence forcing her to take a paycut by keeping her character off-canvass for a certain length of time saving themselves money while she is trying to get her fans to call and write in to put pressure to bring MTS back before they were planning to.

    She recently joined twitter knowing that as her “last” episode was approaching airdate, her fans would be questioning her about when she might be returning. This gives her an opportunity to say she hasn’t heard from anyone, hasn’t received any scripts, doesn’t know if she still has a job, etc. All along she must know that since she didn’t take the per-episode paycut, the studio is just reserving their right to enforce their own paycut by keeping her character off-canvass.

    Of course, there is a lot we still may not know, but I think everyone is right to be skeptical of MTS’ motives and if she is using her fanbase on twitter as a negotiation tactic, there are moral and ethical complications that I think most people will take issue with.

    My brain is hurting from analyzing all this. All I know is that I like watching MTS on the show, and I hope that she comes back in a timely way that works out for all parties involved.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>