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For Hollywood's Middle Class, 'Cut' Has New Meaning

California is a place that looms large not only in the national economy, but also in our collective imagination. As part of a summer series, NPR is talking to people who embody an aspect of California and have a unique insight on what the Golden State is all about.

Beth Broderick is having a tough time making a living as an actress lately. That wasn't always the case — and it's not for lack of work.

She belongs to Hollywood's middle class: actors and crew members who have worked on countless sit-coms, TV dramas and movies. She's not an A-list celebrity, but she's also not a waitress waiting for her first break.

Broderick plays Aunt Zelda on the TV series Sabrina, the Teenage Witch and Evangeline Lilly's mother on the drama Lost. And she tells NPR's Madeleine Brand that she feels "totally, truly, entirely blessed" for her 20 years in the business.

"I like having my autonomy, I like going into the vegetable aisle with little fanfare," Broderick says. "Very few go into that star category, in that uber above-the-title category. The rest of us, day in and day out, we're there to support what they do."

But over the past decade, the wages for the professional class have plummeted, Broderick says. She used to make $25,000 to $30,000 to guest star on an hourlong TV episode. Now she gets about $6,000, which comes out to $4,800 after commission.

"The average actor might only be able to book six to eight guest star jobs a year — that would be high," she says. "So when you start doing the math, you can't live on that in Los Angeles."

Annually, Broderick says her annual income has gone from $300,000 to $500,000 down to $70,000 and that's for the same amount of work.

There is a lot less work available, she says, because fewer pilots get picked up or are given a shot to succeed. Shows like Cheers, which took a year and a half to catch on, wouldn't make it in today's climate, she says

"I feel sorry for young actors today," Broderick says. "When I first got here, I was getting four scripts a day in the busy season. Now these kids, maybe they get four scripts every two months."

Last year's writer's strike also took a huge toll on the industry.

"It was pretty devastating because all of us were out of work," Broderick says. "If I had a dollar for every time I was offered to star in a Web series for nothing, I'd be a lot richer than if I actually starred in a Web series for nothing."

What's more, former A-list stars who are out of work have begun "filtering to the professional class," taking away work from people such as Broderick and diluting the wages. Now, she says, all of the profit is at the top.

"The studio heads still get paid enormous salaries. They still have huge golden parachutes," Broderick notes. "Stars still make $20 million a picture, but the people right below them are making scale."

She says, "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 [million], and let's divvy the rest up between the next 10 people on the call sheet so that those people I'm staring across from the camera at for the next eight weeks I can feel good knowing that their kid can go to school.'"

Broderick believes the problem is that few actors are willing to stand up, take a risk and voice the issues with the industry.

"Nobody wants to sit where I'm sitting and say, 'Hey, this is the reality. I did two movies, six guest-star spots 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,' " Broderick says.

"Somebody's got to say it. Nobody wants to take that risk, nobody wants to admit that or put that out there, but it's true."

Copyright 2022 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Nobody wants to sit where I'm sitting and say, 'Hey, this is the reality. I did two movies, six guest-star spots and I starred in a one-woman show, and I'm not making any money.'