Arts, Culture & Media

South Africa's most popular soap opera fires its cast

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Credit: Generations

A wedding scene from South African soap opera 'Generations'.

Even for a soap opera, this is a dramatic plot twist: The cast of the hit South African soap "Generations" has been fired after going on strike in a dispute over pay and contracts.

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(This story is based on a radio interview. Listen to the full interview.)

"Generations" is one of the longest-running and top-rated shows in the country. More than 7 million South Africans tune in to state broadcaster SABC to watch the "soapie," as locals call it. The show follows the lives of black middle-class characters working at rival ad agencies and the show's actors are household names in South Africa. Now 16 of those actors are out of a job after refusing to return to work on Monday. 

Andile Ndlovu, an entertainment reporter for the Times of South Africa, says that the actors are asking for three-year contracts and a substantial pay hike. “The truth is, nobody is well-paid in the local [South African] television industry," Ndlovu says. Actors on the show are at least a little ahead of the curve: "'Generations’ actors do get slightly better pay. Their rates are a little better than everybody else.”

Ndlovu points out that stars of the hit CBS comedy "The Big Bang Theory" took similar actions this summer when actors Jim Parsons, Johnny Galecki and Kaley Cuoco-Sweeting stalled production over a pay dispute. CBS eventually agreed to a substantial pay hike.

The makers of "Generations" have taken the opposite position. The show's bosses say they won't be strong-armed into what they have described as "Hollywood" salaries.

Executive producer Mfundi Vundla branded the actors' pay and contractual demands "unreasonable" during an appearance on a South African radio station. He says the showrunners will seek out new cast members instead of shelling out for the old stars. The cast's lawyer says they will seek further advice before deciding how to fight the decision.

And while there's still a chance the actors will come to an agreement with SABC, Ndlovu says fans are shocked that their favorite stars may soon be disappearing from "Generations." 

“It’s become part of our lives," he says. "From 8 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. is the time when everyone is huddled around the television watching ‘Generations.'"

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