Generations shutdown enters fifth week

2013-11-01 16:56

Like the cast of Friends, Generations actors are collectively sticking to their guns, running the risk of being fired and written out, as they resolutely seek better contracts.

It could mark a sea change for South Africa’s TV industry.

Like the group of six actors of the hit sitcom Friends who collectively bargained for higher salaries and remuneration, the 12 actors on South Africa’s biggest local soap in terms of viewership are taking a huge risk as they steadfastly refuse to sign new contracts they say are not fair.

The SABC1 show and the public broadcaster’s biggest money-spinner remains frozen as the cast hold out for three- year contracts with no loopholes such as clauses which could see them being written out.

The SABC’s acting chief operating officer Hlaudi Motsoeneng – who has no matric – earlier this year announced at a glamorous party that the SABC is henceforth giving Morula Pictures and Generations creator Mfundi Vundla three-year renewals for the soap, instead of one year pick-ups.

The long-time cast who’ve made the weekday soap a perennial primetime hit for SABC1 decided that they also want three-year contracts – but not with write-out clauses which could still see them being jettisoned.

Now no new Generations episodes have been filmed for five weeks, and the soap’s lead time of completed episodes are fast diminishing as the rest of the industry’s soaps are ironically ramping up production at this time of year.

While Generations is bleeding episodes and production time, other soaps are filming feverishly to ensure they have episodes deliverable over the holiday period until their production schedules resume in January.

With the situation becoming desperate behind the scenes, and Vundla saying “nobody is bigger than Generations” and threatening to fire them, the actors feel they deserve more equitable contracts after years of helping to make Generations the biggest show on South African television.

The warning shots fired from both sides are casting a spotlight not just on the public broadcaster, the plight of producers and their creative freedom, actors and what amounts to fair compensation and contracts – but on how the local TV industry has been treating and dealing with talent compared to the USA and other countries.

According to insiders, the impasse between producer and actors over contracts, will accelerate the need for changes in the way South African television treats talent – both on-screen and supporting crew.

M-Net’s The Wild soap saw upheaval and the first-ever public picketing of a TV soap, and of an M-Net show, when M-Net filmed episodes without actors having proper signed contracts. It eventually blew up publicly when talented people were let go and scenes had to be reshot.

Now a similar thing is happening on an even larger scale. On-screen talent on SABC1’s biggest show feel they’re not properly compensated or will not share fairly in the soap’s ongoing success and the generated equity of a local South African production.

Twelve Generations cast members – Sophie Ndaba (Queen), Katlego Danke (Dineo), Anga Makubalo (MJ), Menzi Ngubane (Sibusiso), Zenande Mfenyana (Noluntu), Mandla Gaduka (Choppa), Winnie Modise (Khethiwe), Maggie Benedict (Akhona), Thato Molamu (Nicholas), Zolisa Xaluva (Jason), Thami Mngqolo (Senzo) and Slindile Nodangala (Ruby) – are steadfastly refusing to sign new contracts.

According to business insiders, what’s happening at Generations is that South Africa’s TV industry is finally maturing. For the first time in South African television history, actors feel they have the right to demand better contracts and doing so upfront, as a group with collective representation.

A well-placed insider at the show says some of the cast members credit soap star Connie Ferguson, who left the soap a few years ago, for inspiration.

Ferguson went on to new soap fame in M-Net’s The Wild together with her husband Shona, who jettisoned the e.tv soap Scandal! for The Wild.

“Generations is no longer the be all and end all of television or TV fame,” said the insider.

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