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Black Lamb

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Now in its 14th year of publication, this magazine was created to offer the discerning reader a stimulating selection of excellent original writing. Black Lamb Review is a literate rather than a literary publication. Regular columns by writers in a variety of geographic locations and vocations are supplemented by features, reviews, articles on books and authors, and a selection of “departments,” including an acerbic advice column and a lamb recipe.

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My brilliant TV career

March 1st, 2006

BY WILLIAM BOGERT

As even the most cloistered among you must be aware, there is a good deal of money to made in television. Alas, not very much of has come my way. Don’t misunderstand me; I made a decent living for years, and it’s been a very long time since I had to anything else but act. But there were only two years that my wife and I managed to combine for an income into six figures, and there are now any number of television people who make it easily into seven, and eight. These people are regulars on a TV series. I am the most experienced actor I know of who has never attained that exalted status.

I have done over one hundred different episodic shows, in addition to I don’t know how many movies-for-TV and other specials. Some programs I have appeared on more than once, the champ being a show called Small Wonder, which I did thirty-six times over four years; I got a raise each season, but they never signed me to a contract. An actor signed to a series contract has to be guaranteed at least seven out of very thirteen episodes; that was easy enough to figure out when everyone did twenty-six, but I’m not sure how it works now that everyone’s down to twenty-four, or even twenty-two. Not that I’m likely ever to have to worry about it.

The problem for actors in my position is that in TV the money pie, whole not as finite as in the theater (where you can sell only a certain number of seats eight times a week), is still considerably more limited in potential than movies. This means that as the star salaries rise, there’s less to go around for the supporters. One of the less admirable legacies of the otherwise estimable Norman Lear, creator of many hits beginning with All in the Family, is the concept of “top of the show.” What this means is that the producers of sitcoms all got together and agreed not to pay guests more than a certain amount (originally $1,000, it’s more now). When I was a boy in school this was regarded as conspiracy in restraint of trade, and would have been considered illegal, unethical, and lousy, but good luck trying to prove it. The consequence is that in many cases guest stars today are paid less than they would have been thirty years ago!

Nevertheless… some of the best fun I ever had was when I was doing two shows over the same period of time. The Greatest American Hero filmed in L.A. and the soap opera Another World taped in Brooklyn; in lieu of paying me a lot of money Hero agreed to fly me back and forth and the soap would tape my scenes around the film schedule. There was one week when I did World Monday and Tuesday, flew to L.A. and started an episode of Hero on Wesnesday, flew back to New York Wednesday night, taped the soap on Thursday, back to L.A. that night, finished my part in Hero on Friday, flew to Detroit Saturday morning for a sister-in-law’s wedding on Sunday, home to New York after the wedding and did the soap again on Monday!

Even the Lord rested on the seventh day. •

Posted by: The Editors
Category: All Television Issue, Bogert | Link to this Entry

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