For long-running series, time is usually not on the side of the cast when they have to negotiate new deals because ratings inevitably erode as shows get older. But that will not be the case with CBS‘ The Big Bang Theory, which, in Season 7, is still at its peak. Things are quiet and there has been no movement yet on the actors, but I hear producing studio Warner Bros TV will likely go out to the three leads — Johnny Galecki, Jim Parsons and Kaley Cuoco – after the first of the year. The contracts of the trio, along with original cast members Simon Helberg and Kunal Nayyar, are up at the end of this season, as is CBS’ deal for the show with WBTV. I hear the studio and the network have started discussions about a new license fee deal. Like the last one, I hear the renewal will likely be for three seasons, which means the studio and the network would likely try to lock in Galecki, Parsons, Cuoco, Helberg and Nayyar for the same term. (Big Bang‘s other regulars, Mayim Bialik and Melissa Rauch, recently closed new deals.) Like the last time, in 2010, Galecki, Parsons and Cuoco are expected to go first, followed by Helberg and Nayyar. (The former three are repped by the same law firm, Hansem, Jacobson, Teller, and are expected to negotiate together.)
There is no doubt about it — both the license fee and cast deals will be huge. After all, Big Bang Theory is the biggest show on broadcast television. The comedy is running neck and neck with NBC’s Sunday Night Football for the highest-rated program this season adults 25-54, averaging a 8.6 in the most current ratings to SNF’s 8.8. The way Big Bang has separated itself from the pack is staggering. Among adults 18-49, Big Bang averages a 6.8, with the next three series — NBC’s Blacklist (5.0), ABC’s Modern Family (5.0) and NBC’s The Voice (4.9) — almost two rating points behind.
In May 2010, a day after CBS announced Big Bang‘s move to Thursday 8 PM from its protected Monday 9:30 PM berth, I wrote a column, Is ‘Big Bang Theory’ The Next ‘Friends’? At the time, I felt the multi-camera comedy about a group of friends held the promise to become as successful as its NBC predecessor in the Thursday 8 PM slot. Big Bang has more than delivered on that promise. It is even more dominant than Friends was in its heyday, positioning itself to contend for the type of blockbuster deals Friends – produced by the same studio, WBTV — landed in its last major renegotiation for Season 9. At the time, WBTV broke a record for the highest license fee scored by a half-hour series when NBC agreed to pay $7 million an episode. And each of the six Friends cast members received paychecks for $1 million per episode in addition to back-end participation. The Friends stars had been at $750,000 an episode before the raise, while Galecki, Parsons, Cuoco are currently at about $350,000, meaning the Big Bang trio will need to close a far wider gap in order to catch up with the Friends sextet. But, while Friends was an instant hit and had been a Thursday 8 PM anchor since the beginning of its second season, the circumstances have changed dramatically for Big Bang between the last and this coming contract negotiations. When the five original cast members got their raises in the summer of 2010, Big Bang had been scheduled to move to Thursday — but whether it would work there was a big unknown. The show had not proven itself as a tentpole, airing in the cushy Monday 9:30 PM slot behind Two And A Half Men where it had flourished, averaging a 5.4, after a slow start at 8:30 PM. But when CBS tried it as a 9 PM anchor, it dropped to a 4.6. Three years later, Big Bang is the biggest tentpole there is and has been steadily growing in the ratings, currently pacing 1% ahead of last season, which was the series highest-rated ever with a string of series highs. It is a mega hit for two networks, CBS and TBS, with the comedy’s repeats in 2013 propelling TBS to its first No. 1 year-end finish among adults 18-49 in eight years.
Still, because of the relatively low starting point of $350,000 for Parsons, Galecki and Cuoco, the initial offers will likely come in way below $1 million. But, given the show’s complete ratings dominance, observers are having hard time imagining any scenario where the trio do not get to a $1 million — if not right away then later in the life of the new contracts and possibly with advances towards back-end participation and other incentives factored in. While the studio, in this case WBTV, normally leads the cast salary negotiations, at this point of a series, it is the network that shoulders the lion’s share of the actors’ salaries, so CBS’ top brass are no doubt in touch with their WBTV counterparts. The two companies have a lot of business together, with CBS a home to such WBTV series as three Chuck Lorre comedies, Person Of Interest and The Mentalist. The two companies have a good track record of pretty smooth negotiations on high-profile, complex renewals of big shows like Two And A Half Men and the previous Big Bang deal.