Thursday, April 16, 2015

The real suspense this pilot season

Most people in television are either underpaid or overpaid.

When actors sign on to pilots they commit to the series for five to seven years. If the show becomes a huge hit in season two, the network and studio (often they’re the same) makes a shitload while the actor works for his agreed upon price, usually based on what he made on a failed series or two busted previous pilots.

So it stands to reason that should the series go long enough that the actor’s contract is up he will ask for the moon to stay with it. And many times get it. (This is the plot of my comic novel, MUST KILL TV, which you should have already but if you don’t, go here immediately and order it.) Many times stars have the production company and network over a barrel. Remember the FRIENDS negotiations? Or MODERN FAMILY? Actors go from underpaid to overpaid in a blink.

But networks do have options in most cases. They can continue the series without the star. LAW & ORDER is just a revolving door. THE OFFICE survived "Michael's" departure.   But usually this ploy does not sit well with viewers. NBC lost both Sanford and son and changed the show to THE SANFORD ARMS. As someone said, “they just renewed the set.”

A lot depends on how integral the star is to the show’s success. When CSI’s Jorja Fox and George Eads tried to play hardball they were temporarily fired from the show.

I’m reminded of the story of Ralph Kiner, a once great power hitter, who socked over fifty home runs one year for the Pittsburgh Pirates although they wound up in the cellar. When he wanted to renegotiate his contract, team president Branch Rickey said no raise. Kiner reminded him of his fifty home run feat and Rickey said, “Ralph, we can finish last without you.”

Obviously you need Nathan Fillion on CASTLE since he is Castle. (His contract is up for grabs.) But if one of the guys in the squad wants to hold out for a big payday, good luck to him.

How successful a show is also determines whether the network will back up the Brinks truck to the star’s garage. CSI, for example. Star Ted Danson’s deal is up. I’m sure he makes more than pocket change, especially since his joining CSI turned it around and saved it. But now, after either 15 or 60 years on the air (I forget which), the numbers are dwindling. Is it worth it to CBS to pay Danson what he justifiably deserves to keep the show going another couple of years, or is it time to just pull the plug? They sure have enough episodes for syndication.

So as the next couple of weeks unfold and networks decide on their upcoming Fall schedules, they’ll have lots to consider. Are returning stars worth the big bucks they’re demanding? Are the pilots good enough that it’s worth replacing some of these old franchises? Will the void left by one show hurt the shows around it? Can the series survive without the star in question?

And for the actor – is it worth walking away from a big existing hit? How many of them are there? Is it worth holding out? One thing is for sure – networks won’t give you what you deserve unless you demand it and back them into a corner. Don’t ever expect benevolence.

So it’s game on. Shows that were locks for renewal might not get on. Shows that were on the bubble will live or die based on negotiations with other shows. Shows that were once dead will suddenly find themselves on Thursday night. Boy, to me, all of this seems much more fun and suspenseful than the shows the networks put on air.

UPDATE:  It was just reported that Nathan Fillion has signed so the announcement says CASTLE is virtually assured of continuing.   However, Stana Katic is still unsigned.  What does it say about her leverage when ABC is essentially saying we can do the show without her?   Expect her to sign real soon. 

UPDATE 2:  I will performing at Sit n' Spin tonight -- it's a fun night of storytelling. 8 PM at the Hudson Theater in Hollywood. For reservations: 323-960-5519. Warning though: it's free.

28 comments:

MikeK.Pa. said...

I'm surprised Danson wasn't able to negotiate a very favorable contract when he joined CSI since it was already on the air and needed to replace its star (William Petersen). I'm thinking Ashton Kutcher when he replaced Charlie Sheen on TWO AND A HALF MEN.

RockGolf said...

@MikeK: Actually, Danson replaced Lawrence Fishburne, who can't complain too much as he's on two network series this year - Hannibal & Blackish.
Now that I think about it, "Hannibal & Blackish" sounds like either a law firm or a execrable country duo.

Matt said...

Ted Danson was already an established star with two successful series and a fan base. I am sure he is not playing for league minimum.

frank1569 said...

Not sure if 'overpaid' is valid when yer talking about TV actors. Sure, half a mil per ep sounds like a lot, but when do the math - 60-70 percent lost to the govt and the entourage plus the high cost of living in LA or NYC plus the fact that it's highly unlikely said actor will ever work regularly again, even a million per episode is peanuts. It's why so many actors end up hawking life insurance or credit cards - because their acting income only SOUNDS like big bucks.

Michael said...

Friday question: How much leverage do writers have in negotiating higher salaries on successful shows?

Loosehead said...

Maybe its just me, but it seems to me that us Brits are kinda out of the loop on things like this in the Hollywood bubble, and I personally find them quite interesting. I did not know Ted Danson and Nathan Fillion were out of contract, for example, and enjoy both shows. Did not know Jorja Fox and George Eads were fired, presumably for about 5 seconds until they said "okay, okay, I give in". Usually my wife and I see someone disappear from a show, or die in a show, and assume "they must have asked for too much money".
Where do you get this information? Variety? IMDB? LA Times?

Glenn E said...

FRIDAY QUESTION:
Knowing your appreciation for “The Good Wife”, do you find the urge as a writer to try your hand on a script for the show? If the Kings came calling one day with an offer to do so, would you want to create lines for characters like Eli Gold and Howard Lyman?

Kenny said...

I think this is my favorite Liz Montgomery role, (along with 'The Rusty Heller Story' episode of 'The Untouchables'), it's an episode of Boris Karloff's 'Thriller' series, titled 'Masquerade' from 1961 (also starring Tom Poston and John Carridine). So sexy here, and those legs!


https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=m9rekVN-Uu8

JW said...

For the record, Ralph Kiner wasn't trying to renegotiate. Like all players in the days before free agency, he had a one-year contract. And even though he was the only reason people went to Forbes Field then, we see how much leverage he had.

Oat Willie said...

Kenny, you should check out "Johnny Cool" from 1963. Very hot Liz, Rat-Pack dregs, plus the most magnificent/ridiculous theme song of all time.

Diane D. said...

FRIDAY QUESTION:

Please answer what Glenn E. asked. Does someone of your stature seek work, or just wait to be asked?

Michael said...

It will be interesting if Stana Katic does re-sign on CASTLE. She has said in interviews multiple times that her decision will be based on "art", not money. Obviously that could just be negotiation posturing, but from what I have read about her, there might be some truth to that.

VincentS said...

Here I go again, getting into a thread tangent, but if I'm not mistaken, JW, it's not that all players had one-year contracts, it's that, before free agency regardless of the length of the contract, all contracts had the so-called "reserve clause," whereby the teams reserved the right to the players services for the year after the contract expired, whereby the player had to either agree to whatever terms the team wanted or automatically play the next hear with no contract at the previous year's salary.

JW said...

VincentS, in those days players didn't play without a signed contract. There was no ability to automatically come back at the same salary. There was, of course, no union, either.

VincentS said...

JW

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Reserve_clause

Doug said...

Hoping Stana resigns.It ain't Castle without the 'Castle-Kate' relationship.I also like Forever but it seems it is unlikely to return.

benson said...

@Kenny,

Amazing. Tom Poston gets Elizabeth Montgomery here, and Suzanna Pleschette in real life. That's better than Lyle Lovett.

D. McEwan said...

Woe to any star of Doctor Who who wants to hold out for more money at contract renewal time. They solved the problem way back in 1966.

Kathleen O'Neill said...

Thank goodness!!!! I love Nathan and Castle. And Beckett, of course. Hope she signs.

canda said...

Jim Bouton, after winning 21 games in 1963, asked for a raise, but was told by New York Yankee management that he didn't need a raise. He would be getting the World Series players share at the end of the year when the Yankees appeared in the World Series (meaning it was assumed the Yankees would be the World Series). Well, management was right. The Yanks did appear in the Series in 1964, but it was the last time they did for 12 years.

Bouton won 18 in 1964, but if he was hoping for any more World Series shares, he never got any. Of course, he became famous for writing BALL FOUR in 1970.

Johnny Walker said...

Fun fact: Actors are asked to sign their seven year contract agreements before they're allowed to enter their final auditions. No signature, no final auditions. And even if you do sign away your life for seven years, there's still no guarantee you're the one who'll get hired.

Hollywood, where dreams are made.

Johnny Walker said...

Ken, did you watch the finale of TWO AND A HALF MEN? From what I've heard it was one long unfunny in-joke, that didn't bother giving the characters or stories any resolution. Sounds like a bit of an insult to the viewers who actually cared about the characters?

Thoughts?

Hamid said...

I've read Must Kill TV and can recommend it. It's a great page turner and very funny. And no, Ken hasn't paid me to say this.

On this subject, I remember a fascinating interview with the late great Larry Hagman who revealed the reason why Barbara Bel Geddes was replaced for a season. She had a manager who convinced her that she could demand a bigger salary from the network. Of course they refused and fired her. Hagman said he spoke to her later and when she explained what had happened, he said that that's the sort of demand you should only make if you have the clout. Hagman, being the mensch he was, told Bel Geddes that she should have come to him first and he would have used his power as the star of the show to get all her demands met. He said he'd have literally told the network "this is how much you're going to pay her and these are the hours she's going to work". After one season without Bel Geddes, Hagman went to the network and said he wanted her brought back and they obliged. They knew they had to keep him happy. They couldn't do Dallas without JR Ewing and no one could replace Hagman in the role. He's one of a very few actors who owned a character so completely that there was no way anyone else could ever play it.

Hamid said...

I found the documentary with the Hagman interview for anyone's who interested. The link below starts at the mark where he talks about this.

https://youtu.be/z7hV0LM1I-8?t=59m28s

Barry Traylor said...

Very sorry, but as much as I like Nathan Fillion without Stana Katic thee is no Castle for me

McAlvie said...

This post reminds me of Rob Lowe and The West Wing. I know the original premise was supposed to be the happenings as seen by his character, but it very quickly morphed into an ensemble piece. Ironically, the only character they couldn't do without was Bartlett, and I believe that initially the concept was that POTUS would only make token appearances. Clearly Sorkin was flexible. So I found it mindboggling that Lowe didn't realize how very replaceable he was. Ultimately, it was Josh and Donna that would have been missed the most.

With CSI, I heartily agree that bringing in Danson saved the show. Fishbourne's character was never plausible, and the episodes he was in tended towards angsty, something viewers get tired of very quickly. I don't know why writers and networks don't realize that. It also neglected the concept that drew fans in the first place - the cases. Even with Danson, the show isn't as good as those first seasons when you saw multiple and sometimes overlapping cases being worked on. Very tight writing there; but I suppose the were more expensive to produce.

Cory said...

CSI is already canceled. It was dead when CBS cut their order for this season...no drama has been renewed after having their initial order cut.

Anonymous said...

Castle has turned into the "Three's Company" sequel.
Every thiing is predictable.