Exclusive: CBS to its stars -- no raise for you!

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Okay, now you know the recession is bad when the cast of CSI: Miami has to start clipping coupons.

CBS Paramount is asking the on-air talent on the majority of its dramas to forgo their annual raises and keep their salaries flat next season. (Multiyear contracts typically have standard yearly increases built in.) The unprecedented move, part of an overall cost-cutting measure, is an effort to keep budgets down at the CSIs, NCIS, Numb3rs, and their kin, and prevent further behind-the-scenes layoffs. (CBS dramas produced by outside studios — i.e., Ghost Whisperer, The Mentalist, and Without a Trace — won’t be affected.)

But, as many in the business have pointed out, the gambit is likely to
create as many problems as it solves. For instance, what happens if a
star balks at the idea of maintaining the status quo? "Some [of these
TV] leads won’t accept a freeze," says a showrunner at a rival
network, who adds that while the studio can’t fire them outright, they
can decide not to pick up their contract option at the end of the
season. The likelier scenario, however, is that a cut will be made
somewhere else on the show. "The leverage they will use is  ‘Freeze
your already ludicrously high salary, or watch a bunch of your
coworkers lose their jobs.’"

In fact, one exec producer at a CBS Paramount drama is already
preparing for such a worst-case scenario. "If our lead doesn’t accept
the freeze, we will have no choice but to let one of our supporting
actors go," says the exec. "There’s no question that it’s the
second-tier actors who are most vulnerable."

Also, what’s the point of signing a long-term
contract if you’re not going to honor its terms? "It effectively
renders the multiyear contracts meaningless," points out an insider. "But [CBS Paramount] will argue
[that] its actors already treat multiyear contracts as meaningless.
Actors on five-, six-, and seven-year contracts typically come in asking
to renegotiate at year 2 or 3. This would be the same thing, only
the reverse."

Counters a TV agent who has clients on CBS Paramount shows: "Studios
are never obligated to engage in a renegotiation. They do so because
they know it’s the right thing to do on shows that are successful."

Obviously, it’s a debate that could — and probably will — go on ad
infinitum. "There’s no question," chuckles a high-ranking exec at a
rival network, "that there is some deep irony to actors [asking] the
studios to ‘honor the contract’ when they almost never do." A better
solution, the suit suggests, would be to at long last "shut down the
ridiculous renegotiations that actors want to do every year. That seems
like the sane and fair way to get this business back to reality. Two
wrongs don’t make a right — we should all agree to stick to our
original contracts, and if a studio overpaid for someone, they should
just suck it up and make a better deal next time."

That’s assuming there will be a next time. "I don’t think the studio is
playing a game," says one veteran producer. "I think they’re desperate.
Prime-time viewership is way down, and the advertising base is being
devastated by the recession."

"They would be opening a whole Pandora’s box," warns another top talent
agent. "CBS is constantly talking about how well they’re doing. They
can’t have it both ways." Adds a fellow agent: "[CBS Paramount] is not
going to be a place actors are attracted to if they’re not going to
honor their contracts." (A rep for CBS Paramount declined to comment.)

The big question is whether other studios will follow CBS’ lead and
institute their own pay freezes. Reps at NBC Universal and Twentieth
Television insist no such measure is on the table, while a Warner Bros.
spokesperson could not be reached for comment.

So what do you think, folks? Is this the end of network TV as we know
it? Just a blip on the radar (unless you’re an agent)? Do you think
anyone will walk? The mind boggles, so go ahead and think out loud
below.

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Comments (135 total) Add your comment
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  • Anonymous

    sounds like CBS is trying to take advantage of an economic recession and weasel out of their contractual responsibilities. CBS is not hurting for money.

  • tess

    So long as Simon Baker is not affected…

  • Nicole

    I could see some of the top talent being inclined to walk because CBS can’t afford the promised contract raises.
    But then again, they’re not the only company in the world who isn’t giving promised raises this year thanks to the economy. I have so many friends who have gotten laid off and friends who are just happy to be making money and not caring if they get their raises or not.
    I think CBS actors should get over it for the moment. Most of the top actors make more per episode than I make in an entire year already I really think they’ll be ok. It’s quite selfish if they ask to fire a coworker just so they can get a raise.
    But then again this is Hollywood….

  • Ceballos

    To be honest, this is the kind of thing I’d expect out of ABC or NBC.
    Doesn’t CBS have roughly 15 out of the top 20 shows on their schedule (slight exaggeration, I know, but still). If they have to do this, then what hope is there for the other networks?

  • Kevin

    i feel bad for any supporting actors on CSI:Miami. Caruso is a dick. I can see Harmon being cool with it. I’ve never heard a lead actor speak so fondly of his co-stars. As for Numb3rs, that show has been on Friday night death-watch for years… their salaries should be low anyway.

  • Anonymous

    The “talent” should be able to accept a pay freeze like the rest of us drones.

  • Leslie

    Tess, I agree. Give Simon Baker whatever he wants.

  • Rob

    Oh, I can see this now. The studio is going to play one actor off another. If so and so doesn’t take a pay freeze, the studio will now position it that that actor selfishly cost the other actor their job even though it was CBS who froze salaries in the first place. it could get very ugly.

  • Dragonfly

    There are layoffs and cut backs all over the country. There are state furloughs, reduction in employer contributions to retirement, health care. These cuts are to people who struggle to make ends meet. So what if these big time actors have to take a freeze? If they had to live on the salaries and layoffs and cut backs like the rest of us, I could see them being upset. But they are not losing anything, just taking a freeze at their current status. Deal with it.

  • Heath

    Both sides should be honoring their contracts. The studios shouldn’t be asking contracted talent to reduce their agreed upon increases, and the talent shouldn’t be coming back asking for renegotiations. If they are concerned about paying to much, or the talent payed too little, negotiated shorter term contracts. But the studios don’t want to do that because if the show’s a hit, they want to know they have the talent locked up.

  • Harry Conover

    Both sides never treat a contract fairly. So I expect some high-priced stars to cost some supporting characters their jobs (medical examiners,sheriffs,paper pushers,non-essential forensic people) to the detriment of all involved. Money is the ONLY name of the game and the players know it.

  • Katrina

    Anyone that is already making 30k a week for playing pretend and most of them make at least triple that shouldn’t even need to think twice about this! You take a pay freeze (not a cut but a freeze) or someone who makes 30k a year will get fired. Whoever says “No way, fire the underlings” should be let go from their shows for having no souls!

  • Andy Frederick

    A pay freeze will be a good thing no matter what, but especially if the highest-paid actors walk. Let’s get back to the good old days when commercials accounted for less than a fourth of a show’s running time, and we got more than twenty new episodes per year. There’s a lot of undiscovered talent out there who will work for a fraction of what the “stars” demand. As an extra bonus, they probably don’t all look like clones of each other — they might actually look like real people with unique features and voices and personalities. The shows will be no worse, and might even be better. Meanwhile, good luck to the unemployed stars as they try to find work in this economy.

  • lostfan23

    The network should honor its existing contracts, period, and negotiate new contracts as they see fit, in light of the current economy.

  • jenn

    I agree w/Kevin re: David Caruso. I might start back watching CSI: Miami if they got rid of him. Actors salaries are ridiculously too high, anyway, and I agree that renegotiations should stop if they’re going to bellyache about the freeze–HOWEVER, CBS is the one network that isn’t hurting for cash, right? All of those b a s t a r d s just want to get richer and richer, though, and don’t actually care about the little people they have to leverage to save a buck. Because I guarantee you it’s those little people that actually deserve the big bucks.

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