IT’S AN attitude that has seeped into our society, putrefying it to its very core: Demand, demand, demand, and when that fails, threaten or coerce.
It’s a crude tactic which might have served the Amcu strikers (if by “served” you mean the fact that “miners may now find themselves in a more detrimental financial position than before the strike” owing to “objective data which indicates strikers’ overdue debt increased a staggering ninefold”), but which has proven to be the death knell for mutinous television stars.
Most have expressed shock and outrage at the unceremonious sacking of 16 cast members from longstanding soap, Generations. Not least those within the industry who have affirmed their empathy with the ousted actors and their rationale for embarking on the insurrection which has resulted in their dismissal.
Nevertheless, executive producer Mfundi Vundla remains resolute on the decision. Speaking to Radio 702 after the announcement, he declared: “We won’t be taking them back. We are running a business here and there has to be some resolve (sic)”, adding, “There were other actors before and there will be other actors in the future. Generations will go on.”
It’s a response that may be deemed despotic – arrogant, even – particularly when one considers Vundla’s “my way or the highway” reputation. But then, it’s this very take-no-prisoners approach that has positioned him as a kingpin of the small screen. And regardless of which side of the fence you find yourself on, there is a certain begrudging respect for his refusal to be held to ransom.
That being said, there are points to concede on behalf of the actors:
If the SABC and production company MMSV had agreed to at least consider their grievances when the cast members initially went on strike last October, why was the matter allowed to drag on for a further 10 months, without being addressed?
Why aren’t they paid residuals (what’s commonly known as royalties) if the show is syndicated internationally, as is common practice worldwide? Particularly when, according to the actors, this very assurance is included in their contracts?
And on the subject of contracts, while it may be the SABC’s standard blanket policy to renew them only on an annual basis, that the cast had asked for a three-year agreement is hardly unreasonable. More so when one considers they were disposed to including clauses that outline equitable conditions under which their contracts could be terminated.
Where they lost the plot, though, is when they determined to play the “struggling actor” sympathy card. To assert (as they did in an open letter) that “we live in a country notorious for artists living and dying in a state of poverty, tragically, never managing to earn what is their due” may carry weight if indeed they were grappling to make ends meet.
However, to declare that you are “locked into a lower pay grade” and “you just want to be paid fairly” when you’re reportedly earning R16 000 a week not only smacks of avarice, but could be seen as outright insulting in a country (to use their terms of comparison) where the average monthly salary is little more than R11 000. As one commentator put it: “It is ridiculous – they’re actors in a soap opera, not state president.”
And therein lies the crux of the matter. Examples have been cited of international series, The Big Bang Theory (TBBT) among them, in which actors took a similar stance and studios were forced to meet their demands or risk having to cancel the show. The difference lies in the fact there would be no TBBT without Jim Parsons, Johnny Galecki and Kaley Cuoco.
Soapies are, by definition, ensemble projects which often go on for decades, with repetitive storylines and a turnstile of characters. In other words, Vundla isn’t grandstanding when he says “Generations will go on, with or without these people”. He’s simply stating the cold, hard reality.
As for the people postulating that these actors are at the very heart of the Generations brand, a number of the original Grey’s Anatomy troupe as well as Charlie Sheen come to mind.
Katherine Heigl threw a classic “I’m too big for this gig – pay me more or I’m walking” diva tantrum, despite having a lead role in Grey’s. She subsequently secured a few movie roles, but her career has since pretty much nose-dived.
Sheen was infamously booted off Two and a Half Men, convinced that the series would crumble without him. And although it certainly lacks the same edge with Ashton Kutcher in the lead, the show has indeed gone on.
Meanwhile, Sheen’s new offering, Anger Management, is bombing. Badly.
Nonetheless, what appears to have been lost amid the bickering between Vundla/SABC and the ousted 16 is a far more worrying twist to this sordid story.
The ANC remained deafeningly silent on the appointment of an SABC chief operating officer who has since been found to be a fraud – not least because of his cushy (self-authorised) R2.4 million annual salary, paid for by taxpayers.
On this Generations issue, however, to quote spokesman Zizi Kodwa: “For its part, the ANC has requested the intervention of the ministers of communications and labour in the dispute.”
If all else fails, perhaps Vundla should consider creating a new soap opera. One titled A.in’t N.obody C.are...
LARA DE MATOS