The recent Modern Family salary conflict begins to make daily headlines as the show’s network -- ABC -- and its studio -- 20th Century Fox -- attempt to resolve payment issues with seven of its eight adult cast members. Sarah Hyland (Hayley Dunphy) is not a part of the dispute.
Ty Burrell (Phil Dunphy), Julie Bowen (Claire Dunphy), Jesse Tyler Ferguson (Mitchell Pritchett), Eric Stonestreet (Cameron Tucker) and Sofia Vergara (Gloria Pritchett) all currently have contracts through the end of the seventh season. Ed O’Neill (Jay Pritchett) joined his six cast members in the lawsuit filed in Tuesday in Los Angeles Superior Court but is actually in separate negations with the studio. The Hollywood Reporter states it "is not uncommon for contracts to be renegotiated at the end of third and fourth seasons." Modern Family wrapped up its third season in May 2012 after 24 episodes.
According to The Hollywood Reporter six of the adult cast members currently earn approximately $65,000 per episode while it's believed O’Neill earns about $105,000. While current contracts include a four percent raise per season with a $50,000 bonus per episode for season four, the cast continues to hold out on a deal. They reportedly want over $200,000 per episode for season four and $650,000 per episode for seasons eight and nine. Since a television season is typically 22 episodes, it looks like cast members want to each earn about $4 million in season four with up to $13 million in season eight.
Recent comments on SheKnows show some fans are not supportive of such contract disputes. "Emma" writes: "I think contract negotiations are so ridiculous! I know that none of them are hurting for money! So why would you put such a great show and opportunity to fight over dollars. I just don’t think it is right everyone would lose if they couldn’t come to an agreement."
It can be tough for fans to understand such volatile conflicts over money. Television stars often make more per episode than the average American employee. A review of the salaries of our favorite television actors can make us envious. However, it's worth noting the context of such salary wars. Modern Family generates hundreds of millions of profit for both network and studio. ABC grossed $164 million for season 3 advertising revenue alone and 20th Century Fox just closed on $1.5 million per episode in a recent syndication deal with NBCUniversal.
The network usually doesn’t pay television actors when a new series enters the lineup as major productions studios -- like 20th Century Fox -- but as a series continues it is common for studios and networks to share the cost burden associated with actors’ salaries. It is a mutually beneficial partnership. A series is pitched to a network -- in this case ABC -- and is produced through a studio as Modern Family is with 20th Century Fox. Networks and studios sometimes share the cost of actors’ salaries as the series continues on throughout the years.
Networks make money through continuous revenue-stream activities like advertising whereas studios make their money through long-term project and talent investment, creating and supplying "demand" for the entertainment world. It’s not clear how much money Modern Family makes 20th Century Fox but it’s likely to be very substantial.
The bottom line: The very actors largely responsible for the Modern Family's success -- no disrespect to its writers or producers -- seem to only receive a limited fraction of the profits. Reasonable enough given they don’t incur the investment costs associated with Modern Family but their desire to collectively earn --- at most -- 10 percent of the show’s earnings for one season may be credible.
It’s not clear when Modern Family will resume production on season 4.
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