Modern Family stars strike a deal with ABC, saving the network's most important hit
LOS ANGELES -- In a room packed with preening actors and nervous television executives, there may have been no one in this space more relieved than Modern Family's executive producer, Steve Levitan.
When the tall, recognizable producer strode into the International Ballroom at the Beverly Hilton Friday, walking through ABC's evening reception for its new fall stars, experienced reporters knew something was up. With the cast of his hit show reportedly in tense negotiations for salary hikes amid a lawsuit alleging their contracts were invalid, Levitan would have been insane to face a crowd of journalists while on the hook for such a hot issue that he couldn't possibly talk about.
Then the news spread: A deal had been reached with stars Sofia Vergara, Ty Burrell, Julie Bowen, Jesse Tyler Ferguson and Eric Stonestreet, almost all of the adult stars on ABC's highest-rated comedy (Star Ed O'Neill already had a substantially different deal than his co-stars).
According to the Hollywood Reporter, the cast sealed pay increases boosting their salaries from $65,000 per episode to $170,000 or $175,000 per episode in the coming, 22-episode season, including bonuses (reportedly, the actors sought $200,000 per episode). The cast also gets a small percentage of the show's "back end" profits -- revenues which come from sales of the show into syndication which could flow for many years after the program stops producing new episodes (O'Neill already had such a deal, in exchange for taking a lower salary when the series began.)
So why did it take a lawsuit, leaked rumors of salary negotiations and a brief cast walkout on a "table read" rehearsal to produce an agreement?
“There was a studio, a network, and about six agents and six lawyers (involved); that’s why it took so long," said Levitan, eager to smooth over the stories of harsh negotiations. "I don’t know who made it public. Personally, I deeply regret that any of this went public. I would love to find out who released all the details. Because at the end of the day, this could have easily been settled quietly and it made no difference."
On Friday, Levitan cast the current result as an inevitability. Modern Family is ABCs most successful comedy; every adult member of the cast now seeking a pay raise has been nominated for Emmy awards two years running, the show returned to record ratings last season (more than 14-million people) and has been credited with reviving the family comedy on network television.
In such circumstances, it is expected that a show's cast would get pay raises to recognize their contributions, which made the negotiation impasse all the more puzzling. Levitan agreed.
"Not for one second did I ever think it would come to (writing characters out of the show or delaying the series debut)," he said. "At a certain point, there's an inevitable conclusion to this, every time. That's what happens 99.9 percent of the time. And I'm sure everyone will be relived to be back onstage."
Loathe to share many plot details, Levitan acknowledged that the first episode of the new season this fall will feature each member of the show's extended family finding out that Vergara's Gloria Pritchett is pregnant, a detail revealed in the final episode of last season.
And does Levitan expect tough negotiations with the show's other stars: the young actors playing the family's children?
"I hear Lilly (played by 5-year-old Aubrey Anderson-Emmons) is going to be a monster," the producer said, laughing. "I hear she's demanding a swing set."