Eric Braeden, the star of CBS’s Sony TV-produced soap, “The Young and the Restless,” is leaving the show after 27 years. Maybe.

This is the third time this year that Sony and CBS tried to force a pay cut on a show principal and longtime veteran player. In the other two cases, the actresses settled hostile negotiations and returned.

That might happen here, but things don’t look so good right now. CBS just knocked off “Guiding Light” after 200 years on TV. They’re eyeing an end to the 53-year-old “As the World Turns.” That started by refusing to negotiate in 2008 with that show’s star, Martha Byrne. She’s gone, and so are the viewers. Getting rid of Braeden would be like puncturing a balloon and letting all its air out. Will it still fly? CBS would hope not. If ratings slide, they can begin to make a case for cancellation.

CBS is not alone. Last year, NBC dumped “Days of Our Lives” star Deidre Hall, who’d been on the show since Lincoln was elected. Over at ABC, fans actually know and despise the name Brian Frons, the network’s head of daytime television, who’s moving “All My Children” to Los Angeles on the show’s 40th birthday in effort to ditch certain highly paid, New York-centric actors.

An actor from “AMC” recently told me that Frons is obsessed with one actress who had the left the show because she lived in Los Angeles. “He paid her a million dollars to return for a year,” the source said. “Now he’s moving the whole show out there hoping she’ll come back.” A rumor is also rampant that Frons wants to cancel “One Life to Live,” his best-written, acted and directed soap.

As for Braeden, he started playing mysterious tycoon Victor Newman when Gerald Ford was president. The show’s been No. 1 ever since then.

Like most veteran soap actors, Braeden’s devoted his life to the show. It’s a double-edged sword. Soap actors get typecast, and work 18-hour days, so it’s not so easy to find other work. The shows become comfortable for them, but at the same time, the shows need them. The networks or production companies owe more to Braeden and the handful of remaining stars (Susan Lucci, Erika Slezak, etc.) than the actors do to them.

Soap actors rarely complain in public or even have publicists. One actor told me: “It’s an insular world. If you say anything bad, you could get fired. So no one speaks up.” The result is that they get little respect. They live in an alternate celebrity universe even though they probably have higher fan recognition than most indie movie actors.

Frankly, if I were an actor on one of the remaining shows, I’d contact my union rep, get a publicist, and start talking. Soon it may be too late.

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