Thesps set new contract pacts; lawsuit to be dropped

The family drama is over. Six ”Modern Family” thesps have reached an agreement in principle with 20th Century Fox TV that smooths the way for production to begin as skedded on Monday. The accord also means the actors — Julie Bowen, Ty Burrell, Jesse Tyler Ferguson, Eric Stonestreet and Sofia Vergara — will drop the lawsuit filed against the studio on Tuesday in connection with the contract renegotiations. Fellow thesp Ed O’Neill also joined in the suit after it was filed.

Details of the deal were sketchy but it’s understood that the actors agreed to give the studio an additional season, taking them through season eight, in exchange for higher paychecks in light of the show’s success on ABC and in syndication. It’s also believed that the actors will each receive one-quarter of a point in backend share. As the show is poised to gross many hundreds of millions in syndication, the quarter point is not an insignificant stake over the long haul. Achieving a profit participation stake, however small, had been an important point to the thesps.

The actors’ weekly paychecks will jump from mid five figures per seg to low six figures as of the upcoming fourth season, with escalators built in for subsequent seasons. The studio and network had sought to gain another two years on the thesp pacts in exchange for the salary bumps, but the actors’ reps pushed hard on keeping the deal to one more year (the thesps initial contracts ran seven seasons).

News of the agreement came coincidentally just as ABC was wrapping up its portion of the summer Television Critics Assn. press tour at the BevHilton. “Modern Family” co-creator Steve Levitan learned that the agreement had been reached from journos.

“I’m very happy for my friends in the cast for their success. I really am,” Levitan said, clearly relieved.

The actors had been wrangling with the studio on and off for more than a year over new deal in recognition of the show’s boffo syndication deals. The issue came to a head this week as the start of production on season four approached. The thesps made their displeasure known to the studio on Tuesday when all but O’Neill declined to show up for the scheduled table read. The five thesps made another dramatic gesture with a lawsuit that was a purported attempt to void their initial contracts on technical grounds — though in fact it’s clear the suit was a ploy to take the dispute public and force the studio to sweeten its offer.

Sources close to the situation said the negotiations were tough but over the past 72 hours the actor reps and execs from 20th and ABC hunkered down to hammer out a deal. Production will begin as skedded on Monday.

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