It’s hard to overstate the affection which devoted fans of a soap opera feel toward the actors who play the characters they follow on TV every day. We’re talking about true, dyed in the wool fanatics here. These are the people, more than anyone, that the actors are talking about – and talking to – when they thank their fans for their support, because they are the people who provide encouragement and a human connection between the actor and their fans, and who most passionately inspire others to join the ranks of the fandom. We all know the type: They familiarize themselves with the actors’ career prior to appearing on the show, they write fan mail to the actors, they attend events where the actors are scheduled as guests. And they listen, very carefully, to everything the actors say.
Which is why the irony is so overpowering that, many times, the actors really can’t say anything at all. It’s not their fault, it’s in their contracts. They’re working under a gag order.
What is a gag order? Put simply, it’s a clause in an actor’s contract (they’re also used for people in the Department of Defense who handle top secret classified government secrets) that requires them not to reveal sensitive information about their show or be outwardly critical of its producers. Basically they are obligated – under contract – to avoid saying anything that embarrasses the show, angers fans, or otherwise risks the profits of the suits behind the cameras. And these gag orders are serious business; if you violate one, losing your job on the show is the least of your worries. You could be looking at a hefty lawsuit.
This is why it’s so impressive when an actor is willing to risk such harsh consequences in the name of the truth. A prime example would be Kim Zimmer (Reva from Guiding Light CBS), who wrote a book entitled “I’m Just Saying” in which she was brutally and beautifully honest about her feelings towards the studio’s production methods on her show. In the book, she accuses the studio of abandoning their pride in a job well done, and concerning themselves only with churning out an hour of television (of whatever quality) as quickly as possible. She became disgusted with the caliber of her own soap, and she told everyone about it at hers bosses’ expense. It’s the kind of thing anyone under a gag order risks being severely disciplined for, but she loved Guiding Light too much to keep quiet.
Another prime example Susan Lucci (Erica Kane, AMC) : Her rage is captured in excerpts published by the NY Post on Saturday.”An iconic show was losing out to greed … If Brian Frons could show his bosses that he could save the network 40 percent … he could keep his job even if the rest of us lost ours,” she writes, referencing the decision to go with a cheaper show — food talk show “The Chew — in the place of the classic soap. “I watched Brian Frons’ decisions destroy the production of our show and the lives of people on both sides of the country.”
Yet when this does happen, all too often there’s no appreciation for the courage of the outspoken actors, because there’s so little understanding of the risk they are taking. I’m hoping to put a stop to that, right here and now, at least for anyone who reads what I’m writing here. Let’s not be too hard on those actors who abide by their contracts and keep silent at all costs – they have good, personal reasons to do so – but please, let’s give credit where credit is due and acknowledge the downright heroism of those whom no order can gag!
Remember two things, soap fans, you have a voice, and an important one, at that. Use it! And two, as always, stay soapy!