Sunday, June 9, 2013

Soaps and the writers' strike, Part 2

I've been thinking about the position of soap actors and crews during the strike, and the ways in which they are in such different circumstances from prime time casts and crews. In many ways, the fact that soap production continues speaks to the soaps' cultural standing, a standing that places the genre at the bottom of the medium, at the lowest levels of the cultural hierarchies that position HBO series at the pinnacle. There is seemingly an assumption in the industry and in the culture that soap production will go on, that soap actors will report to work, that the little matter of who does the writing is inconsequential enough for the programs to go on without it. No one has suggested that prime time series go on with scab writers, that ABC Studios hire some dudes to write and, hell, produce while they're at it, the season's back-end episodes of Lost. The late night and mock news shows seem to tread some sort of middle ground here--they go off air for awhile--their productions presumably halted without writers--but then return to air, as if they can run without writers (although of course Stewart, Leno, et al. are writing for themselves).

It's not as if Stewart, Leno, etc. have not be criticized for writing when they are purportedly on strike, so these shows' position as somehow acceptably in production after an interlude is complicated. I also see how the showrunner model of prime time, in which writing and producing are duties held by the same person, complicates the idea of keeping prime time shows in production with scab writers. Still, I do think there is something that reads as categorically different, both within the industry and outside it, for the soaps. I see this in the fact that prime time and film actors' refusal to cross a picket line kept the Golden Globes off the air, rather than the absence of a producer (an awards show would have separate people writing and producing). Like the Globes' potential producer, the soaps' producers are still working, as writing and producing duties are also separate in soaps, unlike in most US prime time series. And soap actors are still working--no Golden Globes-like refusals to cross lines there.

I'm not trying to be critical of soap actors' choices, just curiously asking why it is that there seems little doubt such workers will do their jobs while others, in other genres, will not. I know some soap actors have spent time on the picket lines and others have voiced public support for the writers' position. I also know that prime time and film actors have no contractual commitment to appear at something like the Globes, while soap actors are contractually committed to their shows. Still, I have a sense that the unquestioned continuation of soap production is attributable, at least in part, to the worker-bee identity assumed of soap workers of all kinds. Of course these folks would go to work, such an assumption would hold, as they are more like laborers than artists, more like clock-punchers than creatives. There are many concrete reasons why soap production continues unabated, but the cultural implications of those reasons are worth contemplating, as well.

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