Secrets of TV Series Negotiating

Ken Levine explains (even though he still can’t explain, erm, us):

The MODERN FAMILY cast holdout – by Ken Levine

This is a Friday Question I’ve received so often this week that I want to devote the entire post to it…

“It sounds like the cast (at least the adults) on Modern Family are working together (well, actually NOT working together) in an effort to renegotiate their contracts (and did I use enough parentheses in this sentence?).

 “What are your thoughts? As a showrunner, what effect does this have on planning? Do they get support from the writers?”

First off, I have no dog in this race. I feel bad for the producers and writers because of the inconvenience. Under the best of conditions, when things are going swimmingly, it’s still a bitch to knock out a good product every week, much less Emmy-winning quality. If this holdout stretches, then showrunners will have to scramble.   There’s the possibility of missing air-dates.  Some scripts might have to be rewritten.  It sucks.

But in this case, that’s not going to happen.  This will be settled soon, maybe even by the time you read this.

Some backstory: When an actor signs on for a pilot he agrees to a seven-year contract. There are salary increases built in but they’re usually 4-6%. In a previous post I explained just how hard it is to evenget hired in a pilot. (You can find that post here.) And if you are the lucky one, you have to sign your life away.

Two questions you might be asking:

“Why seven years?” So actors can’t do what the MODERN FAMILY cast is doing.
“Isn’t signing a seven year contract a good thing because it means security?” No because it’s not a guaranteed seven years. If the show gets cancelled that’s it. If the studio, producers, or network wants to replace you, or kill you (a favorite of TV dramas) they can. You however, can’t just say after year three you want a big raise because the show is making billions or you’re tired of being a Klingon.

Not so fair, is it? And this is on top of committing seven years to producers you don’t know in most cases. They could be assholes. They could be insane. Or they could be great guys but they’re replaced in two years and the new producers are assholes.

There’s also the danger that playing one role for seven years could typecast you and ten years from now your career consists of appearing at the Nostalgia Show at the Burbank Marriott signing pictures of yourself next to the table where the robot from LOST IN SPACE is signing way more photos than you are.

So I’m torn…

Read it all

We like this post – especially the rest of it – because it goes on to reveal one of the more ruthless sides of showbiz, which might in fact make some writing hopefuls rethink their career choice. Not that we want you to quit. But this can be such a tough haul that we do want you to be sure.

EDITED TO ADD: Ken was right on the money (and we mean $$$) about the outcome of the MODERN FAMILY Feud. Variety (which is a pay site so we aren’t linking because why should you, our beloved visitors, have to pay?) announced just a few hours ago that the dispute had been resolved and the show is continuing as scheduled. We doff our baseball caps to you, dood.

2 thoughts on “Secrets of TV Series Negotiating”

  1. C’mon, EPISODIC TV WRITING, except for the rare exception, isn’t writing at all. At best it falls into the GREETING CARD category: “What can I do, what can I say, he is not dead he’s just away.” gs

    1. Really? You feel like your TV career was nothing but writing greeting cards?

      I may have complaints about the medium as a whole, and about some people I worked with (worked for, actually), but it definitely was “writing” to me. I worked my butt off on every script and think that all of them can stand up to the best writing in any medium. (What directors, producers, network executives sometimes did to the episodes after I was through, though, that’s definitely another matter.)

      You feeling okay, ger? Where’s that idealism you’ve been busting my chops with over the past weeks?

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