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Generations shutdown entering fifth week

2013-11-01 15:24
Cape Town – Like the cast of Friends the group of Generations actors are collectively sticking to their guns, risking the chance of being fired and written out, as they resolutely seek better contracts which could mark a sea change for South Africa’s TV industry.

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

The SABC1 show and the public broadcaster’s biggest money-spinner remains shut down 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 famously matricless acting chief operating officer Hlaudi Motsoeneng 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 as a result – but not with write-out clauses which could still see them get jettisoned.

Production shutdown continues

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

While Generations is bleeding episodes and production time, other soaps are filming more episodes to enable the annual production hiatus for local TV shows while ensuring they have episodes deliverable until their production schedules resume every January.

With the situation becoming desperate behind the scenes and Vundla saying "nobody is bigger than Generations" and threatening to fire the actors, the actors feel that 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 on not just the public broadcaster, the plight of producer’s and their creative freedom, and actor’s 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 crew.

M-Net’s The Wild soap saw behind the scenes upheaval and the first-ever public picketing of a TV soap and of an M-Net show when M-Net had on-screen talent start work and filmed episodes without a proper signed contract. It eventually blew up publicly when talent were let go and scenes had to be reshot.

Now a similar thing is happening on an even larger scale, where on-screen talent on SABC1’s biggest show feel that they’re not properly compensated or will not share fairly in the soap’s on-going 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.

Meanwhile Vundla who’ve publicly berated the actors, doesn't want to feel beholden or held hostage by actors' demands or that a production company's creative freedom has to be curbed by pandering to actors who, he feels, should be dispensable if a storyline demands it or if an actor’s lack of performance necessitates changes.

Industry changing

According to business insiders what is happening with Generations is that South Africa's TV industry is finally maturing in another aspect.

Actors for the first time ever in South African television history feel that they have the choice of "demanding" better contracts and doing so upfront, as well as doing so in a group with collective representation. The Generations cast feel they have leverage and can negotiate on equal footing with a show of which their faces are the faces that viewers love to see in the living rooms at night.

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 soap Scandal! for The Wild as well. Not only that but they’ve gone on to star in the new primetime drama Rockville for M-Net's Mzansi Magic which is producing its second season already and they are co-producers on the show as well.

"Connie is proof that there's definitely life – if not bigger life – after Generations. Connie showed there can be life on TV after Generations. Generations is no longer the end all and be all of television or TV fame. Connie and people like Oprah have opened people's eyes that there's not just one big game in town. You can go out and you can create your own and new games in town," said the insider.

Read more on:    connie ferguson  |  tv  |  generations
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