The stars of "Modern Family" sued to void their contract on ABC's Emmy-winning hit after rejecting the latest salary offer from 20th Century Fox Television.
Ty Burrell, Julie Bowen, Jesse Tyler Ferguson, Eric Stonestreet and Sofia Vergara said their contracts were illegal under California's Seven-Year Rule, which bars personal service contracts of more than seven years. Ed O'Neill decided to join it after it was filed, in solidarity with his castmates.
The lawsuit against 20th Television, which produces "Modern Family," doesn't mean the actors actually hope to leave the show. It only means that they are employing every tactic possible to earn more favorable terms.
"'Modern Family' has been a breakout critical and financial success," says the lawsuit, filed by attorney Jeff McFarland Tuesday in Los Angeles Superior Court. "That success, however, has been built upon a collection of illegal contracts."
A table read for the show was canceled at the last minute Tuesday after Burrell, Bowen, Ferguson, Stonestreet and Vergara rejected 20th Television's latest offer.
The actors had been offered $150,000 per episode and a $50,000 bonus per episode for the upcoming fourth season, and $200,000 for the fifth season, a person familiar with the negotiations told TheWrap.
O'Neill, the biggest name when the show began, negotiated a separate agreement from his castmates and earns more than they do. He was negotiating his own contract, but was not initially named as a plaintiff in the suit.
McFarland said Tuesday afternoon, however, that O'Neill decided to join the suit after it was filed.
20th Television and ABC declined to comment on the negotiations or the suit.
It was unclear from the lawsuit how much the actors currently make. Burrell, Bowen, Ferguson and Stonestreet say their contracts lock them in for seven years and allow them salary increases capped at 4 percent per year. Vergara's raises are capped at 5 percent per year, according to the suit.
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Her agreement with the show is different from that of her coworkers because she had a holding deal after the cancellation of her short-lived 2007 ABC series "The Knights of Prosperity." She was paid $450,000 for the sole rights to her future appearance in an ABC television series. ABC told her in 2008 that she was to join the cast of "Modern Family."
The stakes are high for one of television's most-loved comedies: The two-time Emmy winner for Outstanding Comedy Series is ABC's top-rated show and is tied for television's fifth highest-rated show overall, averaging 7.1 million viewers in they key 18-49 demo and 10.5 million total viewers.
"Modern Family" has also helped ABC launch other shows, including the midseason hit "Don't Trust the B—- in Apartment 23."
The dispute comes nine months after a salary fight nearly ended another 20th Television show, "The Simpsons." The show's voice actor's agreed to have their salaries cut by a third, to $300,000 per episode, to keep the show going for at least two more seasons.
Vergara was recently named Forbes' highest-paid TV actress — but not because of "Modern Family." Forbes reported that she earned roughly $19 million from May 2011 to May 2012, thanks largely to her media company, LatinWE, as well as endorsement deals and her Kmart clothing line.
Pamela Chelin contributed to this story.