'Modern Family' Cast Sues News Corp. to Void Contracts
By Andy Fixmer and Karen Gullo – Jul 25, 2012 8:53 AM ET.
The cast members of “Modern Family,” the most watched comedy on U.S. television, sued the show’s producer, News Corp. (NWSA)’s Twentieth Century Fox Television, to void contracts which cap pay and limit outside work.
Sofia Vergara, Julie Bowen, Ty Burrell and other cast members are seeking to invalidate their agreements ahead of the show’s fourth season, according to a complaint filed yesterday in California state court in Los Angeles. The contracts, which limit actor pay increases as well as their ability to pursue outside work, violate state labor law prohibiting some contracts for performing services from lasting more than seven years, according to the filing.
The cast of “Modern Family,” winners of the Best Television Series – Musical or Comedy award, pose for a portrait backstage at the 69th Annual Golden Globe Awards in Beverly Hills, California. Photographer: Christopher Polk/Getty Images
“Modern Family” is the biggest show on Walt Disney Co. (DIS)’s ABC broadcast network and key to the network’s plans to draw viewers to its new shows in September. The program’s success, the actors said, “has been built upon a collection of illegal contracts.”
Vergara’s contract limits per-episode compensation increases each year to 5 percent, while cast members Jesse Tyler Ferguson, Eric Stonestreet, Burrell and Bowen are entitled to 4 percent more annually, according to the complaint.
The actors said they are barred from seeking roles outside the program without Fox’s consent, restricting opportunities for additional employment.
Chris Alexander, a spokesman for Twentieth Century Fox Television in Los Angeles, declined to comment on the lawsuit.
Vergara’s contract began in 2007. In 2009, 20th Century Fox sent her an amended contract that requires her television work to be exclusively for Fox until 2015, according to the complaint. Vergara said she didn’t sign those amendments.
In 2003, “Sopranos” star James Gandolfini sued Time Warner Inc. (TWX)’s HBO and the show’s producers in an attempt to void his contract. The cast of six “Friends” stars, including Jennifer Aniston and Courteney Cox, threatened to leave the NBC show in 1996, demanding a fourfold salary increase from Warner Bros., the sitcom’s producer.
News Corp., controlled by Chairman and Chief Executive Officer Rupert Murdoch, fell 0.3 percent to $21.75 in New York trading yesterday. Burbank, California-based Disney gained 0.4 percent to $48.16.
The actors are represented by Jeffery D. McFarland, a partner with Quinn Emanuel Urquhart & Sullivan LLP in Los Angeles.
The case is Vergara v. Twentieth Century Fox, BC488786, Los Angeles County Superior Court (Los Angeles).
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