For a hit comedy series, it's common for the cast to ask for a pay raise between the third and fourth seasons. Sometimes, cast members actually make excuses not to show up for work just to strengthen their bargaining position. Normally, this is all resolved relatively quickly and behind closed doors.
Not so with "Modern Family."
Multiple sources are reporting that a table reading for the upcoming fourth season was abruptly canceled today because it was believed that Sofia Vergara, Jesse Tyler Ferguson, Eric Stonestreet, Ty Burrell and Julie Bowen had planned to skip it over the current impasse over their potential new deals.
However, the cast members quickly upped the ante. According to The Hollywood Reporter, the five cast members have just filed a lawsuit against 20th Century Fox Television alleging that their current seven season contracts violate California's "7 Year Rule," which is meant to prohibit personal service contracts that go longer than seven years.
Ed O'Neill has reportedly joined his co-stars on the lawsuit as a measure of solidarity.
At issue is "Modern Family" itself, which quickly became a breakout hit for ABC in 2010. "Modern Family" regularly commands top ad buys due to consistently strong ratings and 20th Century Fox TV (which produces the show) also landed a lucrative deal to syndicate the series on the USA cable network in 2013. For a series like this, a run of eight or even nine seasons is not out of the question.
O'Neil is negotiating separately from the other performers in part because he originally had the highest salary, but he too is said to be unhappy with his current deal. The studio reportedly offered the other five adult cast members gradual pay raises from year to year until reaching up to $325,000 in a potential ninth season. But so far, the cast is demanding "more than double the offered salary if the show goes 8 or 9 seasons."
If the cast members were negotiating separately, the studio would have more leverage against them. But it can't simply replace all of them, so a deal will likely be struck before production delays imperil the premiere of the new season.