Modern Family tonight wrapped production on its eighth season. I hear the episode — in which Manny and Luke graduate from high school — was conceived as a regular-season finale and not meant to double as a series finale. There was no alternate ending filmed in case there is no Season 9. That is because everyone is operating under the assumption there will be a ninth season of the five-time Best Comedy Series Emmy winner.
To get there, ABC and producing studio 20th Century Fox TV need to close a new license-fee deal for next season, and the studio also needs to sign new contracts with the cast whose current pacts are up at the end of Season 8.
Talks between the network and the studio started awhile ago. I hear the studio initially sought a two-season renewal but the network was more interested in a one-year pickup, so the multi-year order is likely off the table, at least for now. I hear ABC and 20th have reached an agreement in principle, outlying what the license-fee structure should look like predicated on making new salary agreements with the actors. That obviously is a very big contingency, so unless the studio can close the actors at pay levels reasonable for both sides, all other points ABC and 20th TV had agreed upon would be rendered moot. I hear the two sides have put closing the license deal on hold until new deals with the actors are made.
Early signs are that the process will be difficult. I hear the framework ABC has agreed upon is roughly in line with the license fee the network shells out for the current eighth season of Modern Family, which pays its core sextet of actors about $350,000 an episode (plus a little piece of the series’ back end).
Keeping salaries flat appears unrealistic. I hear negotiations between the cast and 20th TV started more than two weeks ago, and the actors are asking for significant raises. As of now, I hear the two sides are still far apart on the money.
Because ABC does not own Modern Family and does not benefit from the comedy series’ rich off-network deals and international sales, it is reluctant to pay full-freight cost — as a network is required to so late in a series’ life — above certain price point. I hear the network had suggested that 20th TV should tap into its Modern Family‘s back-end revenue to help bridge a potential gap between the license fee it is willing a pay and the series’ Season 9 budget pushed up by salary increases for the actors.
That, of course, is not something a studio does willingly as it would hurt its bottom line but there could be enough upside from producing more episodes to offset that. 20th TV is known for its tough negotiating style with actors. During the previous Modern Family cast renegotiations, the actors took the studio to court before an agreement was reached.
ABC and 20th TV also have a history of difficult negotiations. In 2014, the two sides went down to the wire on a deal for pickups of then-new series Fresh Off The Boat and Cristela, which were held up by a request by ABC for a license-fee reduction on 20th TV-produced sitcom Last Man Standing. The studio did not budge, with all three shows left in limbo until the two sides reached an agreement following tough negotiations.
Some observers predict a similar outcome this year — negotiations dragging on and new deals with the Modern Family cast as well as a renewal by ABC not closing until just before the May upfront. But, while bracing for a long battle, everyone involved appears optimistic that the bruising negotiations will eventually lead to at least one more season of Modern Family, which is no longer the ratings powerhouse it once was, but, in its eighth season, remains ABC’s highest-rated series among adults 18-49 in Live+7.
After all, who doesn’t want to know what happens with Manny and Luke after high school?