Monday, July 30, 2012

"Modern" Inequality?

The cast of "Modern Family"
The news that the cast of Modern Family has settled their salary dispute must come as great news both to them personally and to the production company and network that is eagerly awaiting the launch of the new fall season. However there is another side to this story that doesn't involved Modern Family, but instead impacts the rest of the professional acting community. 

As I wrote on Facebook over the weekend, there is much more to this story that needs to be considered.
As someone who represents talent, the growing trend to offer the actors cast to play roles in single episodes of series scale-only fees, the notion that a series regular is earning roughly $160,000 for the same episode you are been awarded a minor percentage of, continues to slant the playing field further in the direction away from the other "working" or wanting-to-be-working actors. 

Earning a living in the business of acting as a professional actor continues to get tougher and tougher for those not lucky enough to earn those series regular roles. 

I have represented many "series regular" actors over the years. Those big salaries make for some handsome agency commissions. But it also makes it harder, when in the classroom, to encourage acting students to pursue this for their love of the craft (even when they have to work for free) while holding down "day jobs" they would rather not have. It also makes it harder on the "in the trenches every day" actor who longs to earn a living wage that they can actually live on.

My issue is not with the Modern Family actors. Bravo to them for building a brand together with tremendous value. My issue is with the business piece of this. The networks, the studios, the production companies should pay their "cash cows" (if you will excuse the expression) as much as they deserve, but not at the expense of guest stars, co-stars and others who will be lucky enough to book a weekly gig on a show like Modern Family.

If the money exists to pay a series regular those serious bucks, find the money to pay the "working" actors these shows (also) rely on a wage that is fair, a wage that compensates them for their talent -- and a wage that allows these actors to also attempt to earn a living doing what they love, just as their series regular colleagues get to do.

Many times I have been told by a casting director that it's scale or nothing for a client who is up for a role. They are not to blame; they are doing the job they have been hired to do. The conflict for the actor then arises of do you take the job for scale and add a new credit to your resume -- or do you try to do something about it? 

Turning down a job when jobs are so difficult to come by doesn't make any sense. Of course you would take the job, accept the scale payment and then, the next day, return to your "day job" that pays your bills.

There is also a trickle down component of this equation. The less an actor makes, the less commission their agent and/or manager makes. The less the actor's agent and/or manager makes, the more difficult it can become to sustain a level of representation that is essential in moving a client's career forward.

The inequality between star salaries and guest star/co-star/featured stipends needs to be addressed. The onramp to a solution perhaps lies with SAG-AFTRA. Now, in this post-merger landscape, the new union should address the issues that are crucial to a union member's quality of life in pursuit of a career. Of course, greater union actors' salaries also means increased dues paid to the union (which are based on the union member's earnings). SAG-AFTRA's involvement with this stands to be a fiscal "win-win" situation for both parties.

It's time to look at those union minimums and explore how the wealth of a successful series (any series) can be spread out among any and every actor who works on that show. Perhaps it's time to set union minimums based on the rates of pay series regulars get on shows. Add up the total amount being paid to them for each episode, divide that number by the number of series regulars and come up with a percentage of that amount that would be the new "scale" payment for any non-regular actor hired to work on that episode (or series of episodes).

Union scale might not be an issue for the non-series regular actor who works several days a week, every week. But, as every actor knows, the truth of how often they get the opportunity to audition, let alone the opportunity to work, is hardly enough to build a life, let alone a career on.

It's a discussion worth having -- and I hope you will have your say about this here. 

It's a start ...


Wednesday, July 25, 2012

The Making of an Icon ...

Sherman Hemsley and Isabel Sanford

I was so sorry to hear the news yesterday that my former client and pal Sherman Hemsley has died. This sad news comes just weeks after the seventh year anniversary of Isabel Sanford’s death.

I first met Sherman in the early 1980’s when I worked for producer Norman Lear as the publicist for “The Jeffersons,” which became the longest running series in the history of television at that time.

Through The Jeffersons and particularly the years that followed, there were many memorable moments. Being Isabel Sanford’s manager, I was able to place both of them into many television and film projects where their contributions to American pop culture were celebrated as they recreated their roles of George and Louise Jefferson, including many personal appearance trips to Italy where “The Jeffersons” grew to be a tremendous hit.

I have always thought that both Isabel and Sherman never quite got their due. For me, they will always been one of television’s most memorable, yet most overlooked, duos.

It is, indeed, the end of an era.

We have just uploaded a nearly ten minute segment of my interview with Sherman from November 1992 interview for our live Beverly Hills-based coffee shop chat show. There is a short promo that just went up on You Tube. After watching that, I hope you will view the entire piece at for a really interesting look at the making of George Jefferson as Sherman tells it.

In honoring Sherman, we also honor Isabel and have returned her to the Now Playing section. On the Home page, you can run (or rerun) the first segment of our three parter with her from 1992. The other two segments are available for viewing on-demand in the RerunIt Library.

I hope they are both smiling down on us from their “deelux” apartment in the sky …


Thursday, July 19, 2012

Before the Dark Knight could rise ...

Christian Bale as The Dark Knight

It's no secret that I am a big fan of American pop culture.

In 1939, an icon was created by cartoonist Bob Kane that has stood the time of both time and reinterpretation. Before the Dark Knight could rise, he had to be born.

Batman creator Bob Kane talked about that fateful day and the Batmania it has since stirred in a 1992 interview I did with him for our little Beverly Hills-based coffee shop chat show.

It was a different business of acting then, but nonetheless inspiring to revisit.

We just added almost 20 minutes of never-before-seen (since the original broadcast) footage from that interview on

My bad 1990's hair aside, I wanted to share it. :)