Modern-Family-Season-3

Wow – who saw that one coming?

As you may have read in the trades there’s behind the scenes drama on the set of Modern Family as the cast of the hit ABC sitcom have essentially gone out on strike.

Five of the adult cast members – Jesse Tyler Ferguson (Mitch), Ty Burrell (Phil), Eric Stonestreet (Cameron), Julie Bowen (Claire) and Sofia Vergara (Gloria) failed to turn up for a scheduled table read of the show’s latest script – presumably the season 4 opener. And rumor has it that Ed O’Neill (Jay) may soon follow suit. Plus the 5 are now suing 20th Century Fox, the show’s producers, seeking to be released from their exising contracts.

Here’s the backstory. As is usual with sitcom cast members, the 6 stars signed up for 5-year contracts when they first started working on Modern Family back in 2009. Ed O’Neill – initially the show’s biggest star – reportedly received a fee of $100,000 an episode – while the rest of the cast made ‘just’ $65,000. Now all six apparently want a payout of around $200,000 per show – in line with what the cast of The Big Bang Theory make.

Okay so here’s my take!

On the one hand, let’s be honest – the studios are doing very well out of Modern Family. The show is the lynchpin for ABC’s Wednesday night schedule and averaged almost 13 million viewers for season 3. Plus the show has been sold into syndication at a reportedly juicy rate of $1.5 million an episode – big bucks for producers 20th Century Fox. Why shouldn’t the actors cash in on some of the wealth? After all it’s their talent on screen – and chemistry – that have made the show the hit that it is!

Okay, but here’s where I find myself feeling uncomfortable. When Julie, Sofia, Ty and the rest signed on for Modern Family they agreed to 5-year contracts at a set rate. To be honest the studios and network are under no obligations to raise their rates – but they are (apparently the last offer was around the $150,000 an episode mark).

The cast are negotiating as a group – just as the Friends crew famously did many years back – and The Big Bang Theory team did more recently. But there are differences between the three shows. For starters Big Bang only has 3 leads – while Modern Family has 6. It also pulls in higher ratings – last season averaged almost 16 million an episode versus the aforementioned 13. Plus the Big Bang cast kept working through their negotiations and didn’t get their raises until season 5.

friends-cast

Sure there were 6 members of the Friends cast but that show was a monster! At its peak the show was pulling in 24 million viewers a week – almost double the Modern Family ratings.

At the end of the day I do think the Modern Family cast should share in the wealth and make more money – but I don’t think holding the studio and network to ransom is playing fair. Sure the latter will make a bundle on the Family’s syndication deal – but they also took ALL the risks when they launched Family show 4 years ago. It costs millions to produce, launch and market a new show and most die a quick death, losing the networks millions of dollars. Then there’s all the costs of running a studio / network – who do you think pays for all the offices, receptionists, assistants, etc. And let’s not make out that the Modern Family cast have been hideously exploited by the show. The series has made the cast household names, enabled them to command high fees for other projects (i.e. movies) and let’s not even get into the millions Sofia Vergara has made from her various endorsement deals!

If you sign a contract you sign a contract – and sure you can ask for a raise, but legally why should you get it. You knew the deal you were signing into. I don’t work in the scripted world but I’ve encountered this problem on the unscripted side too – a talent signs up for a show and then suddenly they want to change the terms or start complaining about their rates as the shoot approaches. You signed the deal. Now do the work.

Of course this will all get resolved and there’s no real danger of Modern Family not making it to season 4. The actors, studio and network all want this to happen – and it will. But excuse me if I don’t shed too many tears for this Family… they’re doing okay!