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7 TV Salary Disputes

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Television salary disputes are almost as old as the Nielsen charts. Here are some examples.

1. With Friends Like These

By May 2001, the original contracts of the six Friends stars had recently expired, and NBC was slated to announce its new Fall schedule to advertisers just a few days hence. Jennifer, Courteney, the two Matts, et al, had been offered a per-salary episode increase of $600,000, but they decided to unite and hold out for $1,050,000 each. The Central Perk pack had been inspired by the unity of the Seinfeld sidekicks who'd held fast as a group and refused to return to work (and reportedly threatened to "bury the show") lest their $1 million per episode demand was met. The Seinfeld crew eventually settled for $600,000 per, but their compromise proved to be a Pyrrhic victory for many other NBC stars. The network suddenly took a firm stance and refused to be "bullied" by petulant actors. Network brass ordered a series of promo spots to be aired after the season finale; the message of each teaser was "See how it all ends." The network provided copies of the promos to the agents of each actor with a promise that they would begin airing them at noon the next day. The tactic spooked the cast enough to agree to return to the negotiating table and a settlement was quickly reached.

2. Battle of Bunker

A three-episode story arc during Season Five of All in the Family was entitled "Where's Archie?", but what viewers didn't know at the time was how close that question came to not getting answered. Series star Carroll O'Connor had suddenly demanded a salary more in keeping with a "leading man" (no numbers were ever made public) and refused to report to work until he was granted the requested pay boost. In response, the writers came up with an Archie-less story line (he disappeared mysteriously en route to a convention) and the producers began making plans to have Archie die off-screen, and have Archie's pal Stretch Cunningham eventually move in with the Bunker family. A compromise was reached, O'Connor returned to work, and the rest of the cast learned a valuable lesson about just how expendable their characters were.

3. Gettin' Jiggle with It

Despite her ditzy chick persona, Suzanne Somers was no dumb blonde. After struggling in the industry for many years as a single mom, picking up piecemeal work as a model and occasional walk-on acting gigs, she landed the role of Chrissy Snow on ABC's new sitcom Three's Company. At first Chrissy was just "one of the girls"; that is, she was one of the two female co-stars hired as John Ritter's comic foils. But Somers had gone hungry too long to let this opportunity slip through her fingers. She hired Jay Bernstein, Farrah Fawcett's manager, and pledged to give him her entire first six weeks' salary if he could make her as big a star as Farrah. Somers' hair got blonder, her costumes skimpier, and her character goofier. Suddenly she was asked to pose for magazine covers and posters apart from her castmates. As Chrissy-mania escalated, Somers fired Bernstein and her husband, Alan Hamel, stepped in as her personal manager.

One of his first moves on her behalf was to demand a per-episode salary of $150,000 (she'd been receiving $30,000 and had been offered a $5,000 increase) plus 10% ownership of the series. When the producers balked, Somers called in sick for several crucial taping days. Somers and Hamel were sure that the Suits would capitulate, but much to their chagrin they found out that auditions had been launched for a "replacement blonde." Somers' contract was not renewed, and her participation in that season's remaining episodes were reduced to Chrissy (ostensibly out of town, caring for her ailing mother) literally phoning in her few lines.

4. Throw Momma from the Series

Eight years after Rhoda ended, Valerie Harper landed back in prime time with Valerie. Valerie Hogan was a "supermom" raising three rambunctious boys almost single-handedly since her airline pilot husband was away from home much of the time. The sitcom didn't start gaining ratings steam until midway through Season Two. Once viewership increased, Harper decided that her salary should do likewise.


Her new contract specified that she would be paid $100,000 per episode (she had been getting $56,750) and she would also receive 35% of the adjusted gross profits. Harper was fairly confident her demands would be met; after all, she had successfully lobbied for a similar pay boost after the first season of Rhoda. But Lorimar Productions execs prepared a Plan B (wryly referred to in the boardroom as Throw Momma from the Series) in case Harper didn't accept their counter-offer. The suits weren't too concerned about losing their title character, as they believed that teen idol Jason Bateman, not Valerie Harper, was the show's drawing card. Valerie pulled a Suzanne Somers and failed to show up for the first taping of Season Three. Producers filmed the pre-planned Harper-less episode, killed the character in a car crash, and Brandon Tartikoff handed Harper her walking papers.

Beginning with the third season, the show was re-titled Valerie's Family – The Hogans, and finally (after a suitable period of mourning, of course) it became simply The Hogan Family.

5. The Coy and Vance Experiment

The Good Ol' Boys of the Dukes of Hazzard had almost as big of a fan following in their day as David Cassidy had during his Partridge Family prime. And, much like The Partridge Family, the Dukes of Hazzard became a marketing juggernaut with comic books, action figures and posters generating millions of dollars for the show's creators. How popular was the show? Even the General Lee - not an actual human being but a 1969 Dodge Charger - received 30,000 pieces of fan mail per month!


When Season Five began filming, series stars Tom Wopat and John Schneider (who played Luke and Bo Duke) walked off the set in a demand for both a salary increase and a percentage of the approximately $190 million merchandising revenue being generated annually. The producers responded by hiring two look-alike actors in the roles of cousins Coy and Vance Duke, with the onscreen explanation that Bo and Luke had left Hazzard County to join the NASCAR circuit.

As ratings slipped, more car chases and crashes were added to each episode in order to entice viewers, but that strategy only led to a shortage of vintage Chargers available for use on the set. Hazzard fans immediately noticed the use of plastic models and stock footage for scenes involving their beloved General Lee, and they tuned out in droves. By the end of the fifth season, the producers were willing to negotiate with Schneider and Wopat, who returned for the series' final two seasons with a sense of satisfaction and a heftier paycheck.

6. Lose a Turn

Early in his career Chuck Woolery aspired to be a singer, and it was during that era of endeavor that he first met Merv Griffin. He guested on Griffin's talk show in 1973, and Merv was impressed not so much with Woolery's singing as with his affable personality and the way he connected with an audience. A year later when Griffin started pitching a new TV game show based on the pen-and-paper game "hangman," he invited Woolery to audition for the host position. Wheel of Fortune was picked up by NBC in 1975 and quickly became one of television's most popular game shows.

All was hunky-dory for the next seven years, until Chuck had the temerity to ask Merv Griffin for a raise. Woolery felt that his $65,000 salary should be comparable to the big shooters (like Bob Barker and Richard Dawson) over at Goodson-Todman, who were reportedly earning $500,000 per year. Griffin countered with an offer of $400,000 and, in an unusual move, NBC pledged to make up the difference. However, for some reason that offer rubbed Griffin the wrong way, and he threatened to move Wheel to CBS. NBC backed down and Griffin handed Woolery his walking papers. The two men, who had once been good friends, never spoke to one another again for the rest of Merv Griffin's life.

7. Taking Advantage of a Ratings Geyser

When prime time soap Dallas debuted in 1978, it limped along in the ratings and was only renewed for a second season because CBS believed it had potential. The network's instincts were correct; the show caught on and became a top 10 Nielsen ratings hit. The catalyst behind that success was Larry Hagman's portrayal of J.R. Ewing. The oily, conniving J.R. was a new breed of anti-hero – a character viewers loved to hate. The final scene of the final episode of Season Two ended with a "cliffhanger" – J.R. Ewing was shot by an unseen assailant. The audience was left hanging longer than originally anticipated, thanks to an actor's strike that delayed the start of the Fall 1980 season. "Who Shot J.R.?" was on everyone's lips and T-shirts for months, and Larry Hagman decided to make use of the hysteria to demand a significant salary increase.


Hagman was quite candid about the situation in interviews after the fact: "If you've got a chance to make it...then make it! Frankly I don't think anyone is worth that kind of money. I think it's ridiculous except that's the way it is. I would be a fool not to take advantage of it." As it turns out, his bargaining position wasn't quite as set in stone as he believed; behind the scenes, plans were underway for Robert Culp to assume the role of J.R. Ewing if necessary. J.R. would first appear swathed in bandages, you see, and when the gauze was finally removed and Culp's face revealed, it would be explained that J.R. had required extensive plastic surgery as a result of his gunshot wounds. Hagman remained AWOL for the first two episodes of the third season (bandaged body double Ace Moore was used in his stead), but détente was finally achieved and Larry Hagman returned to spread his smarmy evil ooze around Southfork for twelve more seasons.

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Pop Culture
The Sweet Surprise Reunion Mr. Rogers Never Saw Coming
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For more than 30 years, legendary children’s show host Fred Rogers used his PBS series Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood to educate his young viewers on concepts like empathy, sharing, and grief. As a result, he won just about every television award he was eligible for, some of them many times over.

Rogers was gracious in accepting each, but according to those who were close to the host, one honor in particular stood out. It was March 11, 1999, and Rogers was being inducted into the Television Academy Hall of Fame, an offshoot of the Emmy Awards. Just before being called to the stage, out came a surprise.

The man responsible for the elation on Rogers’s face was Jeff Erlanger, a 29-year-old from Madison, Wisconsin who became a quadriplegic at a young age after undergoing spinal surgery to remove a tumor. Rogers was surprised because Erlanger had appeared on his show nearly 20 years prior in 1980 to help kids understand how people with physical challenges adapt to life’s challenges. Here's his first encounter with the host:

Reunited on stage after two decades, Erlanger referred to the song, “It’s You I Like,” which the two sang during their initial meeting. “On behalf of millions of children and grown-ups,” Erlanger said, “it’s you I like.” The audience, including a visibly moved Candice Bergen, rose to their feet to give both men a standing ovation.

Following Erlanger’s death in 2007, Hedda Sharapan, an employee with Rogers’s production company, called their poignant scene “authentic” and “unscripted,” and that Rogers often pointed to it as his favorite moment from the series.

Near the end of the original segment in 1980, as Erlanger drives his wheelchair off-camera, Rogers waves goodbye and offers a departing message: “I hope you’ll come back to visit again.”

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20 Things You Might Not Have Known About Firefly
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© 2002 Twentieth Century Fox

As any diehard fan will be quick to tell you, Firefly's run was far, far too short. Despite its truncated run, the show still offers a wealth of fun facts and hidden Easter eggs. On the 15th anniversary of the series' premiere, we're looking back at the sci-fi series that kickstarted a Browncoat revolution.

1. A CIVIL WAR NOVEL INSPIRED THE FIREFLY UNIVERSE.

The Pulitzer Prize-winning novel The Killer Angels from author Michael Shaara was Joss Whedon’s inspiration for creating Firefly. It follows Union and Confederate soldiers during four days at the Battle of Gettysburg during the American Civil War. Whedon modeled the series and world on the Reconstruction Era, but set in the future.

2. ORIGINALLY, THE SERENITY CREW INCLUDED JUST FIVE MEMBERS.

When Whedon first developed Firefly, he wanted Serenity to only have five crew members. However, throughout development and casting, Whedon increased the cast from five to nine.

3. REBECCA GAYHEART WAS ORIGINALLY CAST TO PLAY INARA.

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Before Morena Baccarin was cast as Inara Serra, Rebecca Gayheart landed the role—but she was fired after one day of shooting because she lacked chemistry with the rest of the cast. Baccarin was cast two days later and started shooting that day.

4. NEIL PATRICK HARRIS WAS ALMOST DR. SIMON TAM.

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Before it went to Sean Maher, Neil Patrick Harris auditioned for the role of Dr. Simon Tam.

5. JOSS WHEDON WROTE THE THEME SONG.

Whedon wrote the lyrics and music for Firefly’s opening theme song, “The Ballad of Serenity.”

6. STAR WARS SPACECRAFT APPEAR IN FIREFLY.

Star Wars was a big influence on Whedon. Captain Malcolm Reynolds somewhat resembles Han Solo, while Whedon used the Millennium Falcon as inspiration to create Serenity. In fact, you can spot a few spacecraft from George Lucas's magnum opus on the show.

When Inara’s shuttle docks with Serenity in the pilot episode, an Imperial Shuttle can be found flying in the background. In the episode “Shindig,” you can see a Starlight Intruder as the crew lands on the planet Persephone.

7. HAN SOLO FROZEN IN CARBONITE POPS UP THROUGHOUT FIREFLY.

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Nathan Fillion is a big Han Solo fan, so the Firefly prop department made a 12-inch replica of Han Solo encased in Carbonite for the Canadian-born actor. You can see the prop in the background in a number of scenes.

8. ALIEN'S WEYLAND-YUTANI CORPORATION MADE AN APPEARANCE.

In Firefly’s pilot episode, the opening scene features the legendary Battle of Serenity Valley between the Browncoats and The Union of Allied Planets. Captain Malcolm Reynolds takes control of a cannon with a Weyland-Yutani logo inside of its display. Weyland-Yutani is the large conglomerate corporation in the Alien film franchise. (Whedon wrote Alien: Resurrection in 1997.)

9. ZAC EFRON'S ACTING DEBUT WAS ON FIREFLY.

A 13-year-old Zac Efron made his acting debut in the episode “Safe” in 2002. He played Young Simon in a flashback.

10. CAPTAIN MALCOLM REYNOLDS'S HORSE IS A WESTERN TROPE.

At its core, Firefly is a sci-fi western—and Malcolm Reynolds rides the same horse on every planet (it's named Fred).

11. FOX AIRED FIREFLY'S EPISODES OUT OF ORDER.

Fox didn’t feel Firefly’s two-hour pilot episode was strong enough to air as its first episode. Instead, “The Train Job” was broadcast first because it featured more action and excitement. The network continued to cherry-pick episodes based on broad appeal rather than story consistency, and eventually aired the pilot as the show’s final episode.

12. THE ALLIANCE'S ORIGINS ARE AMERICAN AND CHINESE.

The full name of The Alliance is The Anglo-Sino Alliance. Whedon envisioned The Alliance as a merger of American and Chinese government and corporate superpowers. The Union of Allied Planets’ flag is a blending of the American and Chinese national flags.

13. THE SERENITY LOUNGE SERVED AS AN ACTUAL LOUNGE.

Between set-ups and shots, the cast would hang out in the lounge on the Serenity set rather than trailers or green rooms.

14. INARA SERRA'S NAME IS MESOPOTAMIAN.

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Inara Serra is named after the Mesopotamian Hittite goddess, the protector of all wild animals.

15. THE CHARACTERS SWORE (JUST NOT IN ENGLISH).

The Firefly universe is a mixture of American and Chinese culture, which made it easy for writers to get around censors by having characters swear in Chinese.

16. THE UNIFORMS ARE RECYCLED FROM STARSHIP TROOPERS.

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The uniforms for Alliance officers and soldiers were the costumes from the 1997 science fiction film Starship Troopers. The same costumes were repurposed again for the Starship Troopers sequel.

17. "SUMMER!" MEANS SOMEONE MESSED UP.

Every time a cast member flubbed one of his or her lines, they would yell Summer Glau’s name. This was a running gag among the cast after Glau forgot her lines in the episode “Objects In Space.”

18. THE SERENITY SPACESHIP WAS BUILT TO SCALE.

The interior of Serenity was built entirely to scale; rooms and sections were completely contiguous. The ship’s interior was split into two stages, one for the upper deck and one for the lower. Whedon showed off the Firefly set in one long take to open the Serenity movie.

19. "THE MESSAGE" SHOULD HAVE BEEN THE SHOW'S FAREWELL.

Although “The Message” was the twelfth episode, it was the last episode filmed during Firefly’s short run. Composer Greg Edmonson wrote a piece of music for a funeral scene in the episode, which served as a final farewell to the show. Sadly, it was one of three episodes (the other two were “Trash” and “Heart of Gold”) that didn’t air during Firefly’s original broadcast run on Fox.

20. FIREFLY AND SERENITY WERE SENT TO THE INTERNATIONAL SPACE STATION.

American Astronaut Steven Ray Swanson is a big fan of Firefly, so when he was sent to the International Space Station for his first mission (STS-117) in 2007, he brought DVD copies of Firefly and its feature film Serenity aboard with him. The DVDs are now a permanent part of the space station’s library.

This post originally appeared in 2014.

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