Modern Family Cast Lawsuit: Sofia Vergara Salary Negotiations


"There's no business like show business," as the old saying goes. Especially, if you're one of the six cast members of the popular ABC show Modern Family currently entangled in a lawsuit over salary increase (actor Ed O'Reilly, although not part of the original lawsuit, later joined in solidarity). 

Initially, the cast members requested that due to the financial success of the show (recently nominated for fourteen Emmy awards) their salary should be increased from $65,000 per episode to $200,000 per episode -- with additional increases as each season progresses. 

What the studio executives at 20th Century Fox Television proposed, instead, was $150,000 per episode plus a $50,000 bonus for season four -- while season 5 would culminate in the desired salary of $200,000 per episode. That the actors declined the offer and instead filed a lawsuit claiming that the actors' contracts should be voided for violating a 7-year California labor law is code for more money. Essentially, the lawsuit served as a breakdown of communications and is hardly the picture of a happy "family."

While I don't watch this show, I do sincerely hope that the talks resume again because it's distracting for viewers and also, presumably for the actors as well. It's a positive sign that readings for season four had resumed today. This latest incident questions the value of actors and whether they're inflated in today's economy.

Much like professional athletes, actors serve to entertain their audience with "talent" and should be compensated for being experts in their craft. Do I think it's wildly unfair that they are paid millions and are asking for more while "regular people" are having a hard time scraping by and having to do more with less? In part yes, but such is the makeup of our society. I've resigned myself to the fact that in select industries we've placed priorities on the desired abilities on a select few because they're able to bring joy to society at large.

This latest incident follows a long line of shows in which actors ask for salary increases. If it's a highly acclaimed show, chances are that actors have at one time or another re-negotiated their salary -- which is also good advice for "regular people." 

If you're really good, your boss will want to keep you. But the discussion should be done professionally. An example is how the lead actors of The Big Bang Theory negotiated for three months in 2010 for a higher pay and other financial perks, but did so through meaningful discussion. One source stated that the negotiations had "been arduous and hard but amicable and based on real relationships." Never once did the thought of a walkout even occur. Actors with big egos compare their compensation with the escalating value they bring to a successful show, and anything less than what they perceive as deserved is considered an insult.

But this could be a sign of the political times that we are currently living. Walking out on one's job in pursuit of ideals seems to be a trend. Since July 1, workers for New York City's power company, Con-Ed, have walked-out due to being unable to reconcile on pension and other key items. During the time, managers have been taking over the jobs of their underlings. Not sure if this is what facilitated the tentative agreement between Con-Ed and union leaders but it's a start in the right direction.

In all these scenarios, real people and work and collegial relationships are on the line. It's in everyone's interest to get back to work.