Ms. BETH BRODERICK (Actress): Hi, I'm Beth Broderick, and I'm an actor.

MADELEINE BRAND, host:

Because we're hosting the show from California this month, we're profiling people who capture some essence of the Golden State. Every week, we'll introduce you to a California character. Today, Beth Broderick, and she really is a character, as in character actor. Beth is a member of Hollywood's middle class: actors and crewmembers who have worked on countless sitcoms, TV dramas and movies, not an A-list celebrity, not a waitress waiting for her first big break. Beth says she's been able to make a good living until recently.

Ms. BRODERICK: My best-known series would be "Sabrina, the Teenage Witch." I was Aunt Zelda.

BRAND: You played Aunt Zelda, that's right.

Ms. BRODERICK: Yeah.

(Soundbite of TV program, "Sabrina, the Teenage Witch")

Ms. BRODERICK: (As Zelda Spellman) Wait until Sabrina finds out what new doors this will open for her.

Ms. CAROLINE RHEA (Actress): (As Hilda Spellman) Wait until she finds out you still get zits when you're 600 years old.

(Soundbite of laughter)

BRAND: And you're also on "Lost."

Ms. BRODERICK: I'm on "Lost." I play Evangeline Lilly's mother. I think I did five on-the-air series. Sabrina was the one that lasted the longest. And honestly, it makes your head hurt to even count the number of guest stars and movies of the week and all of that.

BRAND: And so, you've been working for, what, how long?

Ms. BRODERICK: Twenty years.

BRAND: Twenty years here in Los Angeles?

Ms. BRODERICK: Yeah, a good, solid 20 years. Yeah.

BRAND: And how has the acting profession been for you?

Ms. BRODERICK: I feel totally, truly, entirely blessed. I mean, to have had a career which has been a really good - what used to be a really good living. I like having my autonomy. I like being able to go into the vegetable aisle with very little fanfare. Very few go into that star category, go into that uber, above-the-title category. The rest of us, day in day out, we're there to support what they do.

BRAND: So, you've been working in Hollywood steadily for 20 years, and you've been on series. You've been a recurring character. You've worked in movies. You've earned a good living. What has changed now?

Ms. BRODERICK: Over the last 10 years, we've seen wages for the professional class - I'm not talking about the minimum wages for the people who are breaking in or who are day players, but people like me who have been on series after series and done job after job. We've seen those wages cut by, I mean, just a tremendous amount. For instance, I used to be paid $25,000 to $30,000 to guest star on an hour episode of television. I'm now paid $6,000, which after commissions would be $4,800. Now, the average actor may be only able to book maybe six to eight guest star jobs a year. That would be high. So, when you start doing that math...

BRAND: You can't live on that.

Ms. BRODERICK: You can't live on it in Los Angeles.

BRAND: So, your annual salary has gone from what to what?

Ms. BRODERICK: I would say it went from $300,000 to $500,000 a year to $70,000 a year for the exact same amount of work.

BRAND: Why? What's happening? Why the dramatic shift in compensation?

Ms. BRODERICK: Well, there's a lot less work. You know, I feel sorry for young actors today. When I first got here, I was getting four scripts a day in the busy season. Now, these kids, maybe they get, you know, four scripts every two months.

BRAND: Is there less work because there's more reality and less scripted drama?

Ms. BRODERICK: That has a lot to do with it. Far fewer pilots get picked up or tried out or given a shot. You know, shows like "Cheers" that took a year and a half to catch on would never have made it on the air in today's climate. And, you know, frankly, a lot of the formerly A-list stars, the ones that were above the title, are out of work as well. So they're coming kind of filtering in to the professional class, then that cuts out the money for the rest of the people on the call sheets.

BRAND: So, when you have Glenn Close starring in a TV series, that's one less role for you.

Ms. BRODERICK: That's one less role for me, absolutely. And it's also going to cost you quite a bit to have her starring in that series. So I guarantee you the people two, three, four, five, six and seven on that call sheet are not making what they would have made five years ago or seven years ago.

BRAND: How did last year's writers' strike figure into this and affect wages?

Ms. BRODERICK: It was pretty devastating because all of us were out of work. If I had a dollar for every time I've been offered the opportunity to star in a Web series for nothing...

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. BRODERICK: ...I'd be a lot richer than if I actually starred in a Web series for nothing.

(Soundbite of laughter)

BRAND: And so, what you're painting a picture of is a variety of forces all coalescing to force down wages.

Ms. BRODERICK: Yes.

BRAND: Less product available, the writers' strike...

Ms. BRODERICK: And also, the aggregation of all the profit at the top. The studio heads still get paid enormous salaries. They still have huge golden parachutes. Stars still make $20 million a picture, but the people right below them are making scale. So, it's really going to have to come down to the leadership — from producers, directors and stars — who say, you know what? Thanks for the $20 million. I'm going to take 19, and let's divvy the rest up between the next 10 people on the call sheet so that those people that I'm staring across that camera at for the next eight weeks, I can feel good knowing that their kid can go to school.

Nobody wants to sit here, where I'm sitting, and say, hey, this is the reality. I did two movies, six guest star spots last year, and I starred in a one-woman show, and I'm not making any money. I'm on TV every day in every country in the world, and I don't make any money. Somebody's got to say it, but nobody wants to take that risk, nobody wants to admit that or put that out there, but it's true.

BRAND: I think you just did that.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. BRODERICK: I think I just did.

(Soundbite of laughter)

BRAND: Actor and California character, Beth Broderick. In this country, you can catch her on the TV show "Lost." She plays Kate's mom.

Copyright © 2009 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at www.npr.org for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by a contractor for NPR, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio.

Comments

 

Please keep your community civil. All comments must follow the NPR.org Community rules and Terms of Use. NPR reserves the right to use the comments we receive, in whole or in part, and to use the commenter's name and location, in any medium. See also the Terms of Use, Privacy Policy and Community FAQ.