This is a Friday Question I've received so often this week that I want to devote the entire post to it.
Among those asking was Rock Golf.
It sounds like the cast (at least the adults) on Modern Family are working together (well, actually NOT working together) in an effort to renegotiate their contracts (and did I use enough parentheses in this sentence?).
What are your thoughts? As a showrunner, what effect does this have on planning? Do they get support from the writers?
First off, I have no dog in this race. I feel bad for the producers and writers because of the inconvenience. Under the best of conditions, when things are going swimmingly, it’s still a bitch to knock out a good product every week, much less Emmy-winning quality. If this holdout stretches, then showrunners will have to scramble. There's the possibility of missing air-dates. Some scripts might have to be rewritten. It sucks.
But in this case, that's not going to happen. This will be settled soon, maybe even by the time you read this.
Some backstory: When an actor signs on for a pilot he agrees to a seven-year contract. There are salary increases built in but they’re usually 4-6%. In a previous post I explained just how hard it is to even get hired in a pilot. (You can find that post here.) And if you are the lucky one, you have to sign your life away.
Two questions you might be asking:
Not so fair, is it? And this is on top of committing seven years to producers you don’t know in most cases. They could be assholes. They could be insane. Or they could be great guys but they’re replaced in two years and the new producers are assholes.
There’s also the danger that playing one role for seven years could typecast you and ten years from now your career consists of appearing at the Nostalgia Show at the Burbank Marriott signing pictures of yourself next to the table where the robot from LOST IN SPACE is signing way more photos than you are.
So I’m torn. On the one hand, I do see their beef. On the other, there’s something to be said for the integrity of signing a contract and living up to it. Maybe I just spent too much time with John Wooden.
But here’s what the MF actors did: Sofia Vergara, Jesse Tyler Ferguson, Eric Stonestreet, Julie Bowen, Ty Burrell, and Ed O’Neill filed suit against 20th to void their contracts. That’s pretty unprecedented. Partly, they did that for protection. They didn’t show up for the first table reading of the season on Tuesday and the studio could sue them for breach of contract. “Out of good faith”, the cast did appear yesterday for the table reading. And that olive branch re-opened the negotiations.
Hollywood fact: Deals get done when the studios and networks feel they need them to get done. If there's no imperative negotiations can take months or years. If it behooves the studio or network to close the deal the negotiations can take ten minutes. The MODERN FAMILY cast had been renegotiating for months. Now suddenly, the studio presidents and top agents and lawyers found time in their busy schedules to meet yesterday afternoon.
And something else you should know: Studios are making horrible deals these days. Why? Because they can. If an actor doesn’t agree with the studio's offer for the pilot, there are fifty others who will. Same for writers’ deals. The money is way less than even ten years ago. It used to be your agent could negotiate with the studio. Today the studio says “these are the terms and you have until 5:00 to agree to them, or we move on.” There are enough out-of-work writers that studios can get away with that now. And unlike the actors, writers have no leverage should the show become a smash hit. If actors don’t show up there’s no show. If writers pull that stunt there are seven new writers in the room tomorrow. The public isn’t going to know. But they sure will when they tune in MODERN FAMILY and it’s just Haley and Lilly.
(Note to the cast of WHITNEY: Don’t you be getting any ideas now.)
Meanwhile, 20th will go to ABC to try to get them to offset the salary increases. Everyone will cry poor, and everyone will make gazillions.
So what do I ultimately think? Like I said, this will be resolved soon if not already. I wish the actors well. Hey, it’s not my money.
I'll be discussing this topic along with several others and plugging my book on the John Phillips Show on 790 KABC in Los Angeles and KABC.COM from 11-noon PDT.