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‘Becker’ cast bug

CBS laffer's 5 supporting actors seek more money

Either there’s a bug going around the set of “Becker,” or it’s contract renegotiation time: The CBS laffer’s five supporting cast members called in sick Wednesday.

The thesps — Terry Farrell, Hattie Winston, Alex Desert, Shawnee Smith and Saverio Guerra — didn’t appear at the series’ first table read of the season. “Becker” topper Ted Danson and guest star Rhea Pearlman did attend and went ahead with the read.

In response, Paramount TV Group chair Kerry McCluggage dispatched a team of doctors to the actors’ homes to determine whether or not an illness had gripped the cast.

Otherwise, sources say that the cast members may have been in breach of contract for failing to appear at the table read.

According to the cast’s reps, the actors haven’t renegotiated their salaries since the show’s debut and are looking to at least double their paychecks.

“Paramount has said that they’re not negotiating and have slammed the door on these actors’ faces,” said Joel King, whose Pakula/King & Associates — along with Don Buchwald & Associates — reps the majority of the cast. “(They’re) taking a very hard line.”

The actors are due on the “Becker” set this morning at 10 a.m. King said he couldn’t confirm whether the quartet would be back to work, but said he didn’t think that the cast had breached their contracts.

“I believe that when people are stressed out and upset, that can show up with physical manifestations,” he said.

Another rep familiar with the thesps’ plans said that “if their health has impoved, they’ll be back.”

Danson, who coincidentally plays a doctor on “Becker,” apparently was unaware of his castmembers’ intentions until he showed up for work yesterday.

“I guess they were all at the Eiffel Tower with Tyne Daly,” one industry insider said of the sick-out, referring to the latter thesp’s recent absence from the set of “Judging Amy.”

Talks are continuing about a salary increase for Daly. The actress is expected to return to work today following an absence her reps said was related to an injury she suffered in France.

The sick-out by the supporting cast of “Becker” reps a major gamble: None of the thesps is exactly a household name, and Danson is clearly the center of the laffer.

What’s more, networks and studios aren’t pulling in the same coin they were even a year ago. The dot-com bust and the slow economy helped reduce the Big Six nets’ upfront ad haul for 2001-02 by $1 billion; studios are already feeling the trickle-down pinch.

Also complicating matters is the fact that “Becker” has not yet been sold into syndication, which means Paramount doesn’t yet know exactly what its backend potential is for the series. Renegotiations of this sort are usually based, in part, on claims by thesps that a studio should share some of its backend wealth with talent.

“There’s a strong and very real unhappiness on the part of the cast,” said one insider close to the thesps. “They don’t think they’re being treated fairly in any of this, considering they’re a year further into their production cycle.”

Their position: It’s almost unheard of for a studio not to renegotiate talent deals on a series going into its fourth season. And while “Becker” may not be a critical hit, the show frequently lands in the top 15 and is the Eye’s second most-watched laffer.

Sources close to the production were talking tough. “We could recast this thing in 20 minutes,” the insider said.

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