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?
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!”