The pounds 2.75m kiss off

Anglia Television has sacked Vanessa Feltz from her daytime chat show for making `completely unrealistic' salary demands. She is paid a paltry pounds 1.5m. She thinks she's worth pounds 2.75m. So what's a poor girl to do?
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The Independent Culture
It might be in dubious taste, not to say politically incorrect, to point it out, but Vanessa Feltz makes a very good "fat cat". There is no reason to believe that someone's healthy appetite bears any relation to their salary demands, but Ms Feltz seems to have confused the size of her earning power with the size of her decolletage. The 46-year old broadcaster's agent claims her departure from her Anglia television show is about "Vanessa's career development", not about money.

In fact it is about Britain's broadcasters putting down a marker that talent greed is getting out of hand: "Vanessa's request that her salary rise from pounds 1.5m to pounds 2.75m was the third ransom demand the network has had," says a senior ITV source. "Dale Winton and Jeremy Beadle had already tried it and I think this was a demand too far."

But you can understand why Ms Feltz made her requests. Her move to a daily show on ITV must be termed a success, if, that is, daytime television can ever really be described as a success. Her thrice-weekly studio discussion show moved to the mornings to take on Kilroy, the BBC's version of "Victim TV". In just four months her show was attracting 1.3m viewers, 300,000 more than the one-time MP for Knowsley. "We're absolutely slaughtering him," she once said. "I'm absolutely thrilled and he minds terribly."

For this achievement Ms Feltz wanted an extra pounds 1.25m. She also wanted at least 40 peak-time programmes in her new contract. She also demanded that she no longer have to record her programmes in Anglia Television's home town of Norwich - a request that any fair-minded person should be able to understand.

What Ms Feltz misunderstood was the value of daytime television. The people who watch television during the day are scientifically known as "heavy viewers" by the advertising industry. To you and me they are couch potatoes. They watch everything and are incredibly easy for advertisers to reach. In fact advertisers reach them more than they want to, because people who sit on couches all day can rarely afford much of the stuff they see advertised.

Advertisers pay a premium for hard-to-reach light viewers, the ones who claim only to watch Newsnight and the odd episode of Frasier. They do not pay a premium for Vanessa Feltz's audience of skiving students and old ladies.

The other problem for Ms Feltz and other financially aspirational British stars is that they hear reports of what similar broadcasters make in America. Indeed the word "similar" is an understatement. If Oprah Winfrey had been hit by a bus in Chicago when she was 12 years old, few daytime television hosts would have quite the same career they do now.

Ms Winfrey gets $60m (pounds 37m) for doing what she does, and what Vanessa Feltz did. But Ms Winfrey inhabits a very different world. For starters it is a bigger world, with bigger audiences and a more robust economy, so advertisers will pay to reach the millions upon millions at home during the day. Advertisers might be selling hurricane insurance for trailer park homes to Oprah's audience, but it's a market.

Even more importantly, the competition for talent in American television has given stars the power to set up their own production companies and get a bigger share of the profits their shows create. This means the $1m per-episode salaries of stars like Jerry Seinfeld dwarf anything earned on British television. The closest we have to that here is Chris Evans.

He spotted immediately that if he wanted to make real money he had to own the vehicles he appeared in. And, unlikely as it might seem, he is also linked to Vanessa Feltz. He too demanded too much from a broadcaster - he wanted a day off from his job at Radio 1 - and soon parted company with his employers, the BBC.

"The rise of talent-owned production companies is changing the face of talent management," says Stuart Cosgrove, Channel 4's director of the regions and the man who, as its head of entertainment, helped create the careers of many of Britain's comedy stars. "Old-fashioned hardball negotiations and phone-slamming no longer work. Talent management is the most diplomatic and delicate area of television. As well as money you have to be sensitive to people's creative ambitions, and perhaps get them to do what you want by later on letting them do what they want."

Cosgrove had to watch as a generation of comics nurtured by him and his channel - like Vic and Bob, Harry Enfield and Jack Dee - moved on to more mainstream channels, but he is sanguine: "Money is part of it, but so is wanting to be a household name. And Channel 4's remit was to bring on new talent, and that inevitably meant pushing out the established talent at the other end."

The agent for one of Britain's best-paid actors also peddles the orthodoxy that money isn't everything for a star: "There is a finite amount of money and a market rate for talent on British television. It is not carte blanche, write-your-own-cheque time. Instead, stars consider what the show is. What it will do for their career and if it is creatively right for them."

So that's fine then, Noel Edmonds makes his House Party for creative reasons, not a pounds 10m, four-year deal with the BBC.

In fact the competition for audiences means stars are securing more money as long as they sign exclusive, golden handcuff deals with broadcasters. Nick Berry, the former star of EastEnders and Heartbeat, is on pounds 3m to stay with the BBC for two years and ITV pays Robson Green pounds 1.75m a year.

"You do have to pay premium prices to get the top talent," says John Willis, managing director of United Film and Television, the production company which made Vanessa's show for sister company Anglia. "And everyone is prepared to pay the premium, but the danger is that it is overheating. Some stars are looking across the Atlantic and thinking they should be getting more."

The danger for some stars is that their demands for money and a slice of the production fee - by owning the production company - will get too much and endanger their career. It is too early to tell how Vanessa Feltz's earning power will be affected by her public falling out with ITV, but others have damaged themselves. Jonathan Ross became too expensive for some broadcasters and, by making shows with his company Channel X, kept hold of too much creative control. This ended with Ross having to make Pizza Hut commercials and appearances on comedy quiz shows for a few years while the television industry got round to forgiving him.

And it is this ephemeral nature of television fame that explains where star greed comes from. "There aren't that many people who stay at the top for a lifetime," says Stuart Cosgrove. "People like Bruce Forsyth have managed it, but up-and-coming comedians and entertainers are perfectly aware of the fickleness of fashion. They know that nothing lasts forever and they want to clinch the one deal that will secure their pension plan.

"There is also such a thing as `fuck-off money'," adds Cosgrove. "Once you've made enough, you can walk into a meeting and if you don't want to do it you can tell them where to go. You can go and write your novel, or do the thing you've always wanted to do."

According to John Willis, the more sensible up-and-coming stars establish long-term careers through diversification, not money: "People like Alan Davies have moved from being a stand-up to appearing in a comedy drama such as Jonathan Creek. Lots of them are doing sit-coms or dramas or films. And there are plenty of the Young Ones generation who are still going strong, doing a variety of things. You don't really have to think like a footballer and believe that your career will be over at 33."

The problem for people like Vanessa Feltz, Dale Winton and the rest of our chat show and light entertainment stars is that they aren't actors, writers or directors - the traditional definition of talent. Instead they are broadcasters - they are that so very modern thing: a television personality.

Well-paid television personalities have a much more tenuous grip on wealth and fame than those who can do more than walk and talk on camera. Selina Scott was famous for earning increasingly stratospheric sums of money for no reason anyone could ever work out. Last year, she left her pounds 1m a year talk show on Sky, and has yet to reappear.

She and countless others who were once at the top should be a salutary lesson for Vanessa and all other television personalities. Fat cats should remember: career diversification can too often mean a six-month season in Puss in Boots at the Bournemouth Winter Gardens.