The first "Modern Family" table read of the new season is set for Tuesday, but it’s not clear that the stars of ABC's top-rated comedy will show up.
In what has become one of the highest-stakes TV contract renegotiations in years, the six adult actors have yet to secure new contracts with producer 20th Century Fox Television for the series’ upcoming fourth season. Representatives for ensemble members Julie Bowen, Ty Burrell, Jesse Tyler Ferguson, Eric Stonestreet and Sofia Vergara are said to be negotiating together, much as the cast of Friends famously did years earlier. (It's not clear whether sixth member of the main ensemble Ed O'Neill, a TV veteran, will be negotiating with his co-stars because he already makes much more than they do)
According to well-placed sources, the five actors are asking for paychecks in the $200,000-per episode range plus backend for the series’ fourth season, with raises already secured for future seasons. Negotiations are said to be "fluid," with two sources suggesting that if no deals are reached by Tuesday, castmembers might not attend the scheduled table read. But another source says the cast will be there even if no new deals are finalized. (The cast's existing deals cover several more seasons but it's common for TV stars of hit shows to renegotiate for a big raise after the third season.)
Reps for the Modern Family actors are expected to meet with 20th Television chairmen Dana Walden and Gary Newman on Monday. As of mid-day Thursday, co-creator Steve Levitan told The Hollywood Reporter that he and his staff were hard at work on a rewrite of the premiere episode, which Levitan is set to direct.
With the exception of O’Neill, who came to Modern Family after success on Married… with Children and other series, the actors were paid in the $65,000-an-episode range for the show’s 22-epsiode third season, according to sources. O’Neill, who was considered the “get” when Modern Family was casting, taking on the patriarch role when Parenthood’s Craig T. Nelson passed, is believed to have made in the $105,000 range this past year.
The actors' reps did not immediately return requests for comment, nor did a rep for 20th TV.
Watch a full episode of "Modern Family":
To be sure, the series is a profit center for both the studio and the network, for which it regularly draws 13.1 million viewers, according to Nielsen. In 2011, Modern Family generated $164 million in advertising revenue for ABC, up 40 percent from a year earlier, reports Kantar Media. What’s more, the multiple Emmy-winning series has proved an American Idol-style launching pad for the network’s other comedies, including Happy Endings, Don’t Trust the B---- in Apartment 23 and the upcoming alien effort The Neighbors.
Coming out of its breakout freshman season in 2010, 20th TV inked a rich syndication deal with USA –the NBCUniversal-owned cable network’s first major comedy acquisition—for a license fee close to $1.5 million an episode, say sources. That’s roughly on par with the deal Turner’s TBS struck with Warner Bros. TV for repeats of The Big Bang Theory. Modern Family is poised to reap many more millions from broadcast stations when the series rolls out in syndication in 2013, and foreign revenue is said to be particularly robust.
The series’ Emmy nominations, announced Thursday, are likely to be used as leverage by the talent reps. The series’ collected 14 noms, including outstanding comedy and best supporting actor noms for all six castmembers. The latter is a reminder that this cast is a true ensemble, a point that has and will continue to be made during contract talks.
ABC, too, will be involved in the negotiations because its licensing arrangement with the studio provides that the network fund production of later seasons of the show. For that reason, any substantial salary increases agreed to by 20th eventually would be paid for by the network later in the series’ run.