Coming this summer to CBS and WBTV, it’s renegotiations time for the Big Bang gang. The CBS comedy is coming off a red-hot 3rd season and a gigantic off-network syndication deal, putting the cast of the show in a prime position for big salary bumps. Which brings me back to a post I did a month ago titled Is The Big Bang Theory the next Friends? The two comedies share a similar setup: ensemble multi-camera sitcoms about single twentysomethings, the majority of them living in two apartments across the hall; similar ratings strength: Big Bang is now the highest-rated scripted series on TV just like Friends once was; and now the two also share the same time slot, Thursday 8PM, after CBS decided to move Big Bang there in the fall.
Yes, I felt the two comedies had a lot in common… until now. One of the signature moves of the Friends cast was that they negotiated their deals together in an all-for-one, one-for-all fashion, getting to $100,000 per episode each in their first go-around with producer Warner Bros. TV after two seasons and eventually to $1 million per episode. Now, the cast of Big Bang is facing their first salary renegotiation with WBTV following a record-breaking syndication deal for the show, that netted the studio $2+M per episode. But I hear one of the three leads, Jim Parsons, is considering negotiating separately from co-stars Johnny Galecki and Kaley Cuoco.
Some of the rationale behind the strategy is that Parsons has been the breakout star of the series and that he is the only regular who has been nominated for an Emmy. But while Parsons gets a lot of attention, some argue that Cuoco might be the one with the most leverage as her feature career is picking up. She was offered 3 movies to do during her hiatus this year and was able to fit in 2, I Hop and The Last Ride. To keep the Friends analogy, Cuoco has potential to become the next Jennifer Aniston. But despite that, I hear neither Cuoco nor sitcom veteran Galecki have any interest in negotiating their deals separately from their co-stars.
Parsons has already gotten recognition on the show with larger salary bumps early on. Since the trio’s initial salaries were based on their quotes, Galecki and Cuoco, both already sitcom veterans at the time, started off with bigger paychecks than Parsons who was little known. Going into season 4, all three have reached parity, each making around $60,000 per episode. The 3 are also bound by another thing: they all are represented by the same law firm, Hansen, Jacobson, Teller, Hoberman, Newman, Warren & Richman.
And, whether the three renegotiate in coordination or not, I hear WBTV is looking to give them “favorite nations” deals, meaning all would get the best terms any of them was able to negotiate. “The studio has to do it that way,” one insider said. “They will have an unhappy set otherwise.”
For that reason, favored nations deals have become common practice on ensemble shows these days. The four leading ladies on ABC’s Desperate Housewives too started off at different salary levels but the differences were erased after the first couple of seasons and the four have been cutting equal paychecks ever since, currently $250,000 per episode each. And while they don’t negotiate together per se, there is coordination among the actresses’ reps.
It is not clear where the three stars of Big Bang will end up salary-wise as talks are yet to begin. (They could potentially reach the $250,000 per-episode salary of the Desperate Housewives stars given the extraordinary size of Big Bang’s syndication deal.) Since the Big Bang actors are under multi-year contracts and are not entitled to a raise, it is customary for the studio to reach out first with an offer for more money that triggers a back-and-forth with the actors’ reps. That hasn’t happened yet on Big Bang, with many studio executives and agents away on vacation. But when the two sides begin negotiations, probably soon, I hear WBTV may look to add at least two and maybe even 3 more years to the actors’ current contracts. The standard salary renegotiations practice on successful series calls for the cast to get another year added to their original six-year contracts in exchange for getting more money than originally negotiated. But WBTV just sold 9 seasons of Big Bang episodes in syndication. Longer-term deals with the primary cast would prevent a repeat of the Two and a Half Men standoff this year where star Charlie Sheen, who had no deal beyond Season 7, held up the eighth season of the hit WBTV comedy, which had already been picked up by the network and sold in syndication.
So whatever salary bumps Galecki, Cuoco and Parsons secure for the next 3 seasons, which they already have deals for, they will be even more handsomely rewarded for any extra seasons they agree to. The trio’s salary renegotiations will also set the pace for the two other co-stars of the show, Simon Helberg and Kunal Nayyar, who are also expected to get raises.
As for the timetable of the talks, it’s unclear for now. Following WBTV’s syndication deal for Friends during the show’s second season, the cast demanded salary increases to about $100,000 each per episode and threatened to boycott production of Season 3 episodes if they didn’t get what they wanted. For the Big Bang cast, early indications are that talks could proceed peacefully and may stretch into the fall, possibly continuing while the actors work on Season 4.