7 TV Salary Disputes

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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Harry Kerr/BIPs/Getty Images
8 Surprising Facts About the Suez Crisis
Harry Kerr/BIPs/Getty Images
Harry Kerr/BIPs/Getty Images

Season two of The Crown opens on a full-blown catastrophe: 1956's Suez Crisis. This mass failing of diplomacy would diminish Britain’s world standing and severely damage relationships between multiple nations for years to come. It began with the seizure of the Suez Canal and ended with a UN ceasefire. But there was an entire secret invasion in between that. Here are a few key details on the very messy international affair.


Egyptian President Gamal Abdel Nasser (1918 - 1970) with British Prime Minister Anthony Eden (1897 - 1977) in Cairo, 1955
Egyptian President Gamal Abdel Nasser with British Prime Minister Anthony Eden in Cairo in 1955, a year before the Suez Crisis.
Central Press/Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Nearly 90 years after the canal opened, Gamal Abdel Nasser became president of Egypt. He spoke extensively about the canal and its creator, Ferdinand de Lesseps, in a July 26, 1956 speech. The Economist estimates he said the name “de Lesseps” at least 13 times. This wasn’t out of admiration. “De Lesseps” turned out to be a code word. Upon hearing it, Colonel Mahmoud Younes and his men seized control of the Suez Canal Company offices in Cairo, Port Said, and Suez. Nasser declared the canal theirs, which is what led to the Suez Crisis.


Nasser had a specific reason for taking the canal: He wanted to construct the Aswan Dam to control flooding and drought in the region, but he needed money to do so. The United States and Great Britain had offered him a $70 million grant to begin construction on the project, but Nasser was also considering an offer from the Soviet Union. Both America and the UK were growing increasingly frustrated with Nasser. They were outraged over his dealings with communist nations of China and Czechoslovakia, and believed he was playing both sides of the Cold War to his benefit. Britain withdrew its offer first; America followed on July 19, 1956. Just days after Secretary of State John Foster Dulles made the announcement, Nasser seized the canal, intending to use its revenues to finance the dam himself.


Picture released on November 1956 of French troops disembarking at Port Fuad, Egypt, during the Suez crisis
French troops disembarking at Port Fuad, Egypt, in November 1956.
AFP/Getty Images

The Suez Crisis forged an alliance between France, Britain, and Israel, who all despised Nasser. Sir Brian Urquhart, a retired UN diplomat, told NPR, “The one thing I think they all agreed on was the unspoken phrase regime change. They all wanted to see the last of Gamal Abdel Nasser as the president of Egypt.” But they all had separate reasons. By that point, both Britain and France were major shareholders in the Suez Canal Company. France also believed Nasser was assisting Algerian rebels fighting for independence from their French colonizers. By Urquhart’s account, Israel had the biggest grievance: Nasser would not allow Israeli ships through the canal, and his government was also sponsoring Fedayeen terrorist raids into Israel. With these motivations in mind, the three nations hatched a plan to invade Egypt and take the Suez Canal back from Nasser.


In October of 1956, representatives from France, Israel, and Britain convened just outside Paris, in Sèvres. They reached an agreement, which would become known as the Protocol of Sèvres: Israel would invade Egypt first, providing Britain and France with an alibi. They would invade next, as supposed peacekeepers. These joint invasions would allow the allies to take back the canal and punish Nasser. Once the protocol was finalized, UK Prime Minister Anthony Eden ordered all evidence of the plot destroyed. But the details did leak, and the impact was catastrophic.


Queen Elizabeth II at Badminton House, Gloucestershire in 1956
Tidmarsh/Hulton Archive/Getty Images

It’s difficult to pin down exactly what Queen Elizabeth II knew about the invasion, much less her opinion on it. Royal historian Robert Lacey has suggested that the Queen was not fully briefed on the Suez strategy. In Elizabeth the Queen, Sally Bedell Smith counters that the monarch had access to Suez documents through her “daily boxes” of important papers and correspondence. Regardless, it appears Elizabeth was not thrilled with the plan. Eden told Lacey that the Queen did not voice any disapproval, “nor would I claim that she was pro-Suez.” Elizabeth’s longtime courtier, Martin Charteris, put it much more bluntly: “I think the Queen believed Eden was mad.”


At least one person was openly livid about the plan: Dwight Eisenhower. According to J.P.D. Dunbabin, the American president anticipated some kind of invasion or strike after the U.S. elections. But when Israel took action on October 29, 1956, with France and Britain following just a few days later, he was blindsided. “I’ve just never seen great powers make such a complete mess and botch of things,” he said at the time. “I think that Britain and France have made a terrible mistake.” Eisenhower led the charge in squashing the invasion, pressuring the International Monetary Fund to withhold any loans to Great Britain until they agreed to a ceasefire.


United Nations troops enter Port Said, on November 15, 1956 during the Suez Crisis.
United Nations troops enter Port Said, on November 15, 1956 during the Suez Crisis.
AFP/Getty Images

UN Peacekeeping officially began in 1948, when a group of UN observers traveled to Israel to monitor a ceasefire between the new nation and its Arab neighbors, but the Suez Crisis marked the first armed UN Peacekeeping intervention. After Britain and France accepted a UN ceasefire on November 7, 1956, the UN dispatched a delegation to monitor the armistice and restore order. According to Urquhart, it was this mission that earned the group its nickname, the “blue helmets.” The UN had wanted to send the taskforce in with blue berets, but didn’t have time to assemble the uniforms. So instead, they spray-painted the liners of their plastic helmets blue.


The Suez Crisis spelled the end for Anthony Eden. Soon after the ceasefire, he left Britain for three weeks to rest in Jamaica, on doctor’s orders. (He stayed at Ian Fleming’s Goldeneye estate.) When he returned, the British government was still reeling from the Suez Crisis. It was clear Eden would not survive the controversy. On January 10, 1957, he resigned with a report from four doctors stating “his health will no longer enable him to sustain the heavy burdens inseparable from the office of Prime Minister.” (Eden's reliance on Benzedrine has been a major plot point in The Crown, and many believe it's what clouded his judgment.) Eden would live for another 20 years, but the Suez Crisis was his legacy—one that defined his short term in office.

Discovery Channel
11 Fast Facts About Cash Cab
Discovery Channel
Discovery Channel

Between 2005 and 2012, anyone hailing a taxi in New York harbored a secret wish: that they’d wind up in the Cash Cab. The mysterious vehicle was both a licensed city taxi and a mobile game show, one where passengers could win thousands of dollars just by answering a few trivia questions on the way to their destination. After five years away, it’s back on Discovery Channel with its original cabbie host, Ben Bailey. But before you slide into the Cash Cab seat once again, check out some trivia on the series itself. Who knows—it could come in handy during your next taxi ride.


Before Cash Cab came to the U.S., it had a brief run in Britain. This Cash Cab aired on ITV with host John Moody. It kicked off in the summer of 2005 and, although producers had high hopes for the series, fizzled out by the following year.


Since the American iteration of Cash Cab became a hit, the concept has expanded across the globe. Internationally, it’s earned airtime in India, Canada, Jamaica, Egypt, and many more countries. Just stateside, the show has had additional runs outside of New York. Check out a clip from Cash Cab Chicago, with host Beth Melewski, above.


Before Ben Bailey was the host of Cash Cab, he was a stand-up comedian who drove limos to pay the bills. That side gig turned out to be useful when he auditioned for the show. According to, Bailey demonstrated his skills behind the wheel by scoring a 92 on his taxi license exam. He got the Cash Cab job, and left his old chauffeuring job behind. But he still does stand-up comedy (in fact, he’s touring now).


Cash Cab can’t run on one man or one vehicle alone; Bailey has a crew close by at all times. Esquire reported that a black van housing the audio and video team trails behind the car. Bailey also has assistants who hop into the cab after he has revealed his identity to passengers. They’ll get contestants to sign their release forms, then work the lights and music. These assistants also, crucially, keep track of how much money is on the line.


Not all passengers are chosen randomly off the street. Some are prescreened, although even that process is a little sneaky. According to previous contestants, the Cash Cab staff often approaches people by saying they work for a made-up series called Show Me New York, where residents share their favorite spots in the city. They’ll give prospective contestants a quiz. If they do well, the staffers will tell them to go to a certain location to film their segment. That’s when they get in the cab, and Bailey reveals the ruse.


Ben Bailey and the Cash Cab
Discovery Channel

While most people shriek in delight when the lights go off in the Cash Cab, not everyone is into the game. Bailey told NPR that when the show was first starting out, people regularly declined to participate. “People would kind of look at me and go, 'I don’t know what this crazy cab driver is up to, but I am out of here,'" he said. After the show gained attention, more passengers stuck around. But Bailey still got some hold-outs.

“I’ve had a couple people who burst into tears in the cab when I’ve told them what was going on,” he told Thrillist. “One time someone seemed to have some sort of panic attack, and then another time, this one woman was having an awful day—she just wanted to get in the cab and get where she needed to go. I was like, ‘Why are you crying in the Cash Cab? This is supposed to be fun, man!’”


Regardless of how well they do, contestants never pay a fare for riding in the Cash Cab. Bailey still runs the meter, because the NYC Taxi and Limousine Commission requires drivers to keep a record of the trip, but there’s no fee at the end of the trip. As Bailey puts it: The Cash Cab is one of only two free rides in New York. The other is the Staten Island Ferry.


To date, the biggest winner in Cash Cab history is a man named Sam, who took a ride with Bailey in 2011. He correctly answered a Video Bonus question about the Bonneville Salt Flats, doubling his $3100 in prize money to $6200. Anyone looking to beat Sam this season had better study up on America’s salt pans.


During the show’s original run, the Cash Cab was a Toyota Sienna minivan, sporting the taxi number 1G12. According to the Associated Press, the specs were so well-known that fans would chant the taxi number at Bailey’s standup shows in New York.


When the old Cash Cab minivan retired, it wound up in Bailey’s own garage in Morristown, New Jersey. “My neighbors are like, ‘Are you a cab driver?’” he told Entertainment Weekly. Bailey admits that he sometimes takes the car out for a drive, to “get people excited just to disappoint them.”


Bailey gets this question all the time and would like to set the record straight: Nobody has ever puked in the Cash Cab. “Surprisingly, no one has,” he told the New York Post. “Once in a while you get someone who is a little disgruntled when they lose, but no release of bodily [fluids] happens on my watch.”

Hopefully, that streak will continue with the show's return.


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