We have a rare situation heading into next season when the deals for the casts of the two top comedy series on television, CBS’ The Big Bang Theory and ABC’s Modern Family, are both up. There is no movement on either but I hear talks with The Big Bang cast are expected to start soon, with progress likely made before the show goes back into production on August 10. Both casts are expected to ask for salary increases.
Besides being their respective networks’ highest-rated comedies, there are more similarities between the two shows. Both Big Bang and Modern Family –whose license fee deals with CBS and ABC also are up after next season — come from outside studios not affiliated with the nets they air on — Warner Bros. TV and 20th Century Fox TV, respectively. Both are key assets for their studios with rich off-network syndication deals, netting some $1.5 million an episode from TBS (The Big Bang Theory) and USA (Modern Family). Meanwhile, it is the networks that will pick up the tab on the new actor deals as nets pay for the cost of their shows at this point of their run. (It is not unusual for studios to pitch in on lucrative for them properties.)
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Modern Family and Big Bang also are the only broadcast comedies currently on TV to have landed best series Emmy nominations. Modern Family has won the top comedy award for a record-tying five times.
There are some differences in the standings of each series. Nine seasons in, The Big Bang Theory finished the 2015-16 season as the most watched scripted series on television with more than 20 million viewers per episode (Live+7). In adults 18-49, it is the second highest-rated scripted series only behind Fox much younger drama Empire with a 5.8 rating. In today’s highly fragmented, SVOD-dominated landscape, these are pretty extraordinary linear TV numbers, so CBS has little choice but back up the truck to secure Big Bang for more seasons, with some projecting a 12- or 13-year run for the highly-rated comedy.
In its most recent seventh season, Modern Family was #36 in total viewers (9.8 million) and #10 in adults 18-49 (3.4). While CBS has struggled to launch comedy breakouts lately, with Life In Pieces as its most promising newcomer in years, ABC has steadily added to its comedy lineup with The Goldbergs, Black-ish and Fresh Off the Boat, the highest rated of which, The Goldbergs, is less than a rating point behind Modern Family. Meanwhile, the gap between Big Bang and second-highest-rated CBS comedy series, Life In Pieces, is more than 3 ratings points.
I hear there has been some posturing by ABC, with the network sending signals that a renewal of Modern Family is not a given and that it could conceivably do without the praised comedy after next season. Still, observers expect talks between ABC and 20th TV to begin in a few months. They could drag on, and negotiations with the cast could go down to the wire next spring. But most expect that Modern Family would go to a ninth season and could ultimately run for 10 seasons.
As usual, Ed O’Neill, the most senior and highest-paid Modern Family cast member, is expected to go first, followed by the rest of the cast — Julie Bowen, Ty Burrell, Jesse Tyler Ferguson, Eric Stonestreet and Sofia Vergara — who are getting more than $200,000 an episode, plus a small piece of the backend.
On Big Bang, leading the pack again will be the leading trio of Jim Parsons, Johnny Galecki and Kaley Cuoco, who the last time around entered Friends salary territory with a per-episode paycheck in the $1 million range and more than a point of the show’s backend. I hear early indications are that all three, as well as the rest of the cast, would like to continue on the show. (Friends came to an end largely due to one of the leads, Jennifer Aniston, wanting to focus on movies.)
There are differences in the way WBTV and 20th TV have handled talent renegotiations, with WBTV usually being more proactive, starting talks early and locking multi-year deals.
Production on Season 8 of Big Bang was delayed by a week because of the cast negotiations in 2014 but talks went relatively smoothly, given the stakes.
Meanwhile, the 2012 salary renegotiations between the Modern Family cast and 20th TV escalated into a legal war, with the actors filing a lawsuit against the studio.
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