Thursday, April 16, 2015
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.
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.
By Ken Levine at 6:00 AM