NEW YORK — The troubles that are part of imaginary life on daytime dramas are hitting those shows for real in the form of budget cuts and dismissals.
Salaries of "All My Children" regulars including longtime stars Susan Lucci, Michael E. Knight and Ray MacDonnell are seeing their paychecks shrink as part of a cost-cutting policy being applied to all three of ABC's soaps, including "One Life to Live" and "General Hospital."
Without offering specifics, ABC Daytime on Tuesday confirmed a new focus on belt-tightening. A statement from the network spoke of "carefully and responsibly managing our costs, which include some production cuts, but in ways the audience will not see on screen."
This follows word last month that, in a moneysaving measure, two veteran cast members of NBC's "Days of Our Lives," Deirdre Hall and Drake Hogestyn, will be released after decades on that show.
NBC's statement said the soap "has decided to rest" the characters played by Hall and Hogestyn, with both of them "exiting the canvas in early 2009." Hall joined the show as Dr. Marlena Evans 32 years ago. Hogestyn (John Black) has been a cast member for 22 years.
Salary reductions at "All My Children" were first reported Monday by Advertising Age in a story that quoted the series' creator, Agnes Nixon, as saying, "All the actors on `All My Children' have been reduced (in salary)."
Of the three stars she named, Knight has been part of the ensemble, playing Tad Martin, for much of the past quarter-century. McDonnell (Dr. Joe Martin) was part of the show from its debut in 1970, as was Lucci, who plays Pine Valley's femme fatale Erica Kane. Salary figures aren't disclosed by the network, but as far back as the 1990s, Lucci reportedly made more than $1 million per year.
Nixon, who also created ABC's "One Life to Live" and is now a paid consultant to the network's daytime division, told Advertising Age that she wasn't immune to the downturn: "Two years ago, what I got was cut in half. And a year later, that was cut in half again."
A drop in advertising revenue during the economic crisis has worsened a plight daytime dramas have faced for more than a decade: audience erosion. After being pre-empted for much of 1995 while networks carried coverage of the O.J. Simpson murder trial, soaps never regained their former loyalty from viewers.
The number of daytime dramas has also steadily diminished. Whereas a decade ago, there were a dozen, today there are just eight. NBC currently airs only "Days of Our Lives."
ABC is owned by the Walt Disney Co.; NBC is owned by General Electric Co.
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