‘Becker’ cast latest infected by pay bug

Five actors call in sick

HOLLYWOOD — Apparently it was just a 24-hour bug that bit the supporting cast of “Becker.”

The five actors showed up for work Aug. 2 after having called in sick the day before.

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 Perlman 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,” says Joel King, whose Pakula/King & Associates — along with Don Buchwald & Associates — reps the majority of the cast. “(They’re) taking a very hard line.”

Despite the previous day’s sick-out, King says he doesn’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 says.

Danson, who coincidentally plays a doctor on “Becker,” apparently was unaware of his cast members’ intentions until he showed up for work Aug. 1.

“I guess they were all at the Eiffel Tower with Tyne Daly,” one industry insider says 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 was expected to return to work last week following an absence her reps said was related to an injury she suffered in France.

Just recently, four cast members on the Peacock’s “White Wing” settled their salary dispute, which had them staying away from a read, with Warner Bros. Television. In exchange for more cash the quartet — Allison Janney, Richard Schiff, Bradley Whitford and John Spencer — agreed to stay with the show for an extra season.

The sick-out by the supporting cast of “Becker” repped 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,” says 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 says.