There are many reasons why your faves take a header, most of them very logical. So why do some fans persist in thinking it’s a Head Writer conspiracy?

Carolyn and Mark at the 1994 Soap Opera Digest Awards at the Beverly Hilton

Carolyn and Mark at the 1994 Soap Opera Digest Awards at the Beverly Hilton

A good soap opera features an ensemble cast with characters that ebb and flow as storyline dictates. Remember when GH was The Sonny and Jason Show? That’s what happens when the same people drive story every day. It alienates viewers and ends up costing the show a ton of money, because while the frontburner actors are eating up screen time, the backburner actors have to be paid anyway per their contract guarantees.

“All guarantees are per performance,” explains longtime GH Casting Director Mark Teschner. “For example, an actor just starting out on our show would get the standard minimum of 1.5 episodes a week. Obviously, an actor can’t be paid for half an episode, so that averages out to a minimum of 78 performances over 52 weeks.”

The term “guarantee” means that if an actor doesn’t work the minimum number of shows in his/her contract, they’ll be paid for them anyway. The trick for a head writer is to keep track of where all the actors are in terms of appearance frequency, because there’s nothing a network hates more than writing a big check to an actor who wasn’t on the show.

“Almost all actors go above their guarantees,” says Teschner. “If an actor is in a hot storyline, the show doesn’t worry about going over their guarantee. Dominic Zamprogna [Dante] worked more episodes his first year than any actor on any soap I can remember because he really caught on. But by the same token, if an actor is under their guarantee, the show has to find a way to use them.”

This is why soaps rarely showcase big weddings or parties anymore, because every person in the scene has to be paid their day rate whether they have one line or 100. I give DAYS a lot of credit for the recent Will/Sonny wedding, because there were a bunch of BIG names sitting on folding chairs just smiling and clapping. Imagine paying an actor $5,000 to say two lines at a wedding, then multiply that by 10. See?

This is the main reason why faves rotate in and out of big stories. On GH, Heather and Carly drove story during the kidnapping, then it was Patrick and Robin’s turn, then A.J. closed in on Ava for Connie’s murder, then Ben’s paternity exploded at Nikolas and Britt’s engagement party. We didn’t see Liz or Sabrina or Franco or Luke for a long time, but now they’re back. In fact, Liz has been on every day the past few weeks! The pattern continues.

“Writing for a soap is like doing a very complicated jigsaw puzzle,” muses Teschner. “You’re juggling 40 contracts plus all of the actors’ vacations. Then you have to make adjustments on top of that, like dropping the Maxie story for three months when Kirsten [Storms] had her baby. It’s not like writing 26 episodes of prime-time for seven core characters. Both jobs are hard, but there are a lot more balls in the air on a daily soap.”

Factor in when an actor is being a pain in the ass, and it’s damn near impossible. I have seen cases where a show stopped writing for an actor because he a) had a substance abuse problem, b) never knew his lines, or c) was sexually harassing his co-star and she refused to keep working with him. There have also been many cases where an actor had a medical problem which the show accommodated but fans didn’t know about. It’s so hard for me to keep my mouth shut when fans are yelling, “Bring so-and-so back!” and I know that the actor is too ill to work. But it’s not my place to reveal an actor’s personal medical problems, and you have to give credit to all the shows, past and present, for taking the heat to protect the actor’s privacy.

“Veteran actors earn the right to feel some degree of commitment from the show,” says Teschner, preferring not to comment further on the previous paragraph…

In the end, “It all comes down to numbers. Even Maurice Benard goes through cooling periods. But if you’ve been missing your faves,” he winks, “just wait till the Nurses’ Ball!”

 

12 Responses to Why Do Your Favorite Characters Disappear?

  • Jules says:

    General Hospital fans MAKE ME SICK! That’s right, I used all caps because I am yelling at them. Boo hoo! A lot of the people on GH not getting regular stories are not getting them because they are recurring. Maybe they want to be recurring and if that is the case what the hell is FV or RC supposed to do about that? Why is it their fault? Using RC and FV as scapegoats for things going on in your own miserable life is getting annoying. If you don’t like it, get off your arse and go to work, take a walk, move out of your parents house. DO something useful instead of complaining about a fictional show.

  • Chaz says:

    While this makes some valid points, actors don’t have expiration dates like food items. It isn’t as if you have to use someone before a specified date (unless their contract cycle is upcoming and the show does not plan to renew it).

    There isn’t a reason why some scenes could not show a character doing something mundane and replace them with “under fives” or whatever. It helps meet their guarantees AND in some ways satisfies the fans. (Though, I could understand an actor not wanting to make a trip to the studio for 3 minutes of screen time.) In real life there are family & friends we see only fleetingly so this would make sense in the soap world as well.

    My thoughts are that fans get upset when a character vanishes without explanation. If someone will not be used for two or three weeks at least have a mention that so & so is at a business conference or too a trip to see another character possibly no longer on the show. At least when Tony Geary takes his months long vacations they usually come up with a plausible explanation for his absence.

    The entire thing is a juggling act and I don’t diminish the skills it takes to stay within budget, watch guarantees, etc. But, remember a year or so ago when Melody Thomas Scott virtually disappeared from the show because they had used up her guarantees? That was poor planning.

    I also think some shows need to cut back on characters. Not just GH. There are a few on DOOL that could be written off and I doubt people would care.

  • Janeway says:

    I have to join the chorus. Everything you wrote makes sense, but why GH needs a bloated cast filled with characters we don’t care about doesn’t. Maybe if they didn’t carry such a huge cast they could afford to have those big events like Sonny & Will’s wedding on Days. That was such a great event, to me, it was worth every penny to see the whole cast interacting.

    Even when GH does assemble the cast, like Nik/Britt engagement party, the cast barely interacts and instead stay in their own narrow story. The show puts too much emphasis with all the new characters trying to set up their stories that it neglects the long standing characters and family interactions that people care about. It almost seems they are intent on replacing the older more expensive cast with a cast of cheaper newbies.

    The frantic daily pacing with too many scenes, with every scene sifting back and forth, too many new characters inserted into the show, too many stories about characters with no history, is ruining my enjoyment of the show.

    Take the recent episode, Dante and Lulu finally get their baby. Fans have waited over a year and a half for this moment. Dante and Lulu are a legacy couple. The daughter of Luke & Laura and the son of Sonny and Olivia. But none of the family were even involved in the kidnapping story or were there for their grandson. Instead of an epic moment like Anna reuniting with little Robin, it became a small moment of Lulu getting her son back that soon became all about Britt, and Nik, Dr O, Madeline and Nathan etc. Meanwhile, they are so busy beating the drum of Sonny/Ava hiding the fact he murdered AJ, the mourning of the death of this popular character from a legacy family, the Quartermaines, was completely pushed aside.

    RC is good at telling lots of stories with plot points, but it the emotional and character beats that he doesn’t seem to understand and give enough attention to. Those are the moments that are the heart and soul of soaps.

  • Matthew Farris says:

    If there’s one pattern I see in the “hater” comments is that they assume everyone knows and thinks the same things they do. Carolyn is sharing insight from her years in the business but the haters just take it as fuel for their own ignorance.

  • louisa says:

    This article is so obvious. I bet Ron didn’t need to say much to get you to write it. GH is the show with the problem here. The cast is too big, and it keeps growing. Instead of blaming the fans for not being happy, GH needs to quit adding cast and focus on the core characters who have been on the show for years. Ron did this with OLTL. The cast was much smaller and they all interacted. And the show was so much better. It seems they didn’t get the memo that the Sonny/Jason show was a major fail because it’s now the Sonny/Ava show. Same problem.

  • MMC says:

    We all understand about guarantees. Y&R seems to use all of their contract actors on a consistent basis. They have 5 or 6 or 8 stories going on at one time. It’s not that hard, you’ve got 5 days of show, 3-4 story spaces on each episode, if you have 8 stories, you can showcase each one 2-3 days a week, that way no one is off screen with nothing to do for months at a time. That way of working isn’t fair to the actors nor fans.

    Instead on GH they keep adding one new character after the other. If they are so worried about budget, then for the love, stop adding new people and write stories for the characters with a history on the show, instead of inventing new families out of whole cloth. The show has already spent more time on who killed Nina, whom we’ve never met and don’t really care about, than they did on who killed Connie, a character with a history and family.

    We’ve already seen Silas mourn Nina more than we ever saw Sam, Carly, Sonny, Spinelli, Monica, or Liz mourn Jason.

    I understand that the writers want to spread their wings and live out their fantasy of writing for Donna Mills but bring her on as a Quartermaine or Liz’s mother. Instead we’ve got her linked to not one but three new characters that we don’t care about.

  • GH Fan says:

    I completely agree with MC. This article was to support RC and FV who she refuses to acknowledge that not everyone is happy with what they have done to the show. The favoritism and blind loyalty to them is what has made me stop reading her articles. And that saddens me greatly. Because I thought she used to be fair.

    • Matthew Farris says:

      You thought she was fair when she agreed with you. Now that she disagrees with you, she’s not fair. Makes *total* sense.

  • Days fan says:

    Interesting to note that the comments referred 98% to GH, but then mostly they always do.
    It does seem that soap writers, just like soap columnists, have their favorites, and insert them into every story somehow, instead of giving the other contract players the lines, appearances, etc.
    I appreciate the problems that arise because of reasons stated. Vacations, illness, pregnancy, substance abuse, etc. etc. However, is the writers would write with more of their actors involved in the first place, they might not run into difficulties. Instead of putting a contract player in a coma for 8 months, a prisoner somewhere, away at college, on a trip, & pay them their salary while not using their within story, why not have them integrated into other story?
    Heck, using an actor once a week, or once every two weeks is not cost efficient.
    And since we all are very aware of “filler scenes”, why not use those actors instead? The ones who are back in the kitchen, or jogging, still sleeping, etc. etc.
    I definitely agree about seeing fans clamoring for the return of an actor/character that, for good reason, cannot be brought back. And I appreciate that the soaps do such a good job of guarding privacy.

    But that does not mean that the show should neglect or ignore those they already have on contract.

  • CR says:

    I understand about writers having to juggle actors and guarantees but surely this wouldn’t be hard to do if stories were more integrated and included more than the normal cast of characters. Take DAYS for example. The way Rafe was put on the back-burner for almost an entire year when he could have been firmly used in the story centering around Gabi and Nick was not good use of an actor or his guarantees. The writers found a way to use Sami and EJ in that story and if they “wanted” to I’m sure they could have found a suitable place for Galen Gering’s (Rafe) character instead of him being confined to a hospital bed for half a year.

  • MC says:

    Everyone already knows everything you just wrote. The problem is they don’t rotate all the characters. Newbies like Britt and Sabrina have had story after story while popular characters like Liz, mac, Felicia and so forth haven’t had a story since FV and RC took over. Of course they’ve been on but in very minor roles. Now everyone is trying to use the current Liz story and the recent Sabrina absence to act like it’s just their turn but the real fans aren’t that stupid and you should stop treating them like they are. I think most fans also know that Sabrina’s absence is do to the actresses real life pregnancy which just isn’t the story RC wants to tell otherwise she would still be on every day.

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