‘Modern Family’ contract dispute leads to lawsuit, canceled table read

Because the summer press tour takes place right around the time network shows are resuming production for the next season, there’s been something of a tradition of contract disputes playing out right as the network in question is about to arrive at the tour. One of my first tours involved the cast of “Friends” uniting to negotiate a better deal, with every reporter too busy covering the salary impasse to pay any attention to the new shows NBC was trying to promote. In the mid-’00s, CBS fired “CSI” cast holdouts George Eads and Jorja Fox midway through the tour, eventually welcoming them back – at their previous salaries – after enough time had passed for them to learn their lessons.

These issues tend to crop up around hit shows – the cast of “Happy Endings,” great as they are, don’t have a ton of leverage – and this summer’s dispute involves one of the biggest hits anywhere in television: “Modern Family.”

The Emmy-winning ABC comedy was due to have its cast assemble today for a table read of season 4’s first script, but as reported by the industry trades (including The Hollywood Reporter), the table read was canceled because the show’s six adult stars aren’t happy with the deals being offered them. They’re not exactly negotiating as a unit in the way the “Friends” did, because Ed O’Neill already made more than his co-stars and apparently expects that to continue, but Julie Bowen, Ty Burrell, Sofia Vergara, Eric Stonestreet and Jesse Tyler Ferguson have all chosen to negotiate together – and have also sued to have their contracts voided. UPDATE: O’Neill has now also joined the lawsuit.

For the just-completed third season, the five were paid a reported $65,000 per episode, while O’Neill got around $105,000 per, and the actors are asking for “much more” than a raise to around $200,000 per for the next few years, and as high as $325,000 if the show makes it to a ninth season (as seems likely based on the ratings, back-end profitability of hit comedies, etc.).

By (mostly) negotiating together, and because this is a show about a family, the actors should have a lot of leverage. The “Modern Family” producers could replace baby Lily, but they can’t suddenly give us a different Mitchell and Cam, or even introduce a new set of siblings in their place in the style of Vance and Coy Duke.

These negotiations are between the actors and the 20th Century Fox Television studio, but it’s also ABC’s biggest hit by far in the 18-49 demographic. ABC’s time at the tour begins on Thursday, but Paul Lee’s executive session won’t be until Friday morning. The network and studio have between now and then to close a deal, or else the only questions Lee will get that morning will be about Jay, Gloria, Phil, Claire, Mitchell and Cam.

Or possibly about the idea of a “Modern Family Junior” spin-off focusing on the unlikely uncle/nephew relationship between Manny and Luke.