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Tuning in to TV: ‘Modern Family’ cast eyes bigger paychecks

- - Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Hollywood is gearing up for what could be one of the toughest - and highest-stakes - TV contract renegotiations in years.

With third-season production on ABC's top-rated and Emmy-winning comedy "Modern Family" ending, representatives for the series' six adult cast members have begun formulating a plan to negotiate significantly higher salaries with producer 20th Television, multiple sources told the Hollywood Reporter.

Cast members Julie Bowen, Ty Burrell, Jesse Tyler Ferguson, Eric Stonestreet and Sofia Vergara were paid in the $65,000-an-episode range for the 22-episode third season, according to sources, a fee that was bumped up from the first two seasons last summer. (Mr. Stonestreet reportedly was making $20,000 an episode or so for the first season, when he won an Emmy, one of 11 wins for the series.)

Ed O'Neill, who came to "Modern Family" after success on "Married ... With Children" and other series, makes in the range of $105,000 an episode.

Now the series is heading into its all-important fourth season, when casts often renegotiate their contracts, scoring big paydays in exchange for agreeing to extend original seven-year deals by an additional year or two so the studio can generate bigger syndication revenue.

One source suggested the cast could ask for a jump to the $200,000-an-episode range for season four, which would be on par with the three stars of CBS' "The Big Bang Theory" when they re-upped after their show's third season in 2010. Reps will seek additional boosts of $50,000 to $100,000 for subsequent seasons, but 20th is likely to resist opening the vault for a cast with twice as many leads as the "Big Bang" trio.

"It's going to get ugly," a source close to the situation said.

To be sure, the show is a profit center for its studio and network. "Modern Family" reinvigorated a comedy genre many had left for dead. The show regularly draws 13.7 million viewers, up 12 percent from a year earlier, according to Nielsen. In 2011, "Modern Family" generated $164 million in ad revenue for ABC, up 40 percent year-over-year, according to Kantar Media.

Still more impressive: The show has become TV's No. 1 scripted series among younger viewers and is the highest-rated comedy since "Friends" and "Will & Grace."

Following "Modern Family's" breakout first season in 2010, 20th inked a rich syndication deal with USA Network - its first major sitcom acquisition - for a license fee close to $1.5 million an episode, according to sources. The eye-popping sum was roughly on par with a deal struck by TBS and Warner Bros. for "Big Bang" repeats. "Modern Family" is poised to bring in millions more from broadcast stations when the series rolls out in syndication in 2013, and foreign revenue is said to be especially robust.

The question now is whether the "Modern Family" cast will negotiate together, much as the stars of "Friends" famously did. (Each jumped to $100,000 per episode after the second season and later scored $1 million an episode for the final season on NBC.)

Mr. O'Neill so far has declined to join his co-stars, though a source says strategy talks among the representatives are just beginning and negotiations likely will stretch into the summer.

Stewart announces Pillsbury Bake-Off winner

Pumpkin ravioli with salted caramel whipped cream is the winning dish of the 2012 Pillsbury Bake-Off Contest.

TV host Martha Stewart announced on her show Tuesday that Christina Verrelli, of Devon, Pa., was the winner, the Associated Press reports. Ms. Verelli wins $1 million and $10,000 worth of GE kitchen appliances.

Made with Pillsbury Crescent dough sheets, the recipe can be found on Pillsbury's website along with all the other finalists. All entries in the contest were required to include at least one eligible Pillsbury product.

Three category winners each receive $5,000 cash and $3,000 in appliances.

Those dishes are sausage-pomodoro brunch bake by Maria Vasseur, of Valencia, Calif.; asparagus, artichoke and red pepper pizza by Terri Sherman, of Palos Heights, Ill.; and chicken empanada cones by Donna Wolfe, of Hamilton, N.J.

Navratilova eliminated on 'Dancing With the Stars'

Martina Navratilova has done her last dance on "Dancing With the Stars."

The tennis champ was eliminated from the TV dance competition Tuesday and became the first star dismissed from the series' new season.

She came into the results episode in last place and was disappointed, but apparently not surprised, at her dismissal. She said she gave it everything she had but confessed that she made mistakes during her jive routine Monday.

Returning to compete next week will be actors Jaleel White, Roshon Fegan, William Levy, Jack Wagner and Melissa Gilbert; singers Gladys Knight, Gavin DeGraw and Katherine Jenkins; TV personalities Maria Menounos and Sherri Shepherd; and football star Donald Driver.

First lady to honor Swift at Kids' Choice Awards

The first lady is making an appearance at the Kids' Choice Awards to celebrate Taylor Swift for her charity work.

According to the Associated Press, Michelle Obama will give Miss Swift the Big Help Award during Nickelodeon's 25th annual awards show Saturday night in Los Angeles.

The award recognizes individuals whose charitable efforts have made an impact and inspired children to do the same. Mrs. Obama was the 2010 winner of the Big Help Award.

Miss Swift, one of the world's top pop stars, has been active in flood and storm relief, raising $750,000 when she opened her final "Speak Now" tour rehearsal to fans to benefit tornado victims in the South. She also is active with charities such as the Make-A-Wish Foundation, St. Jude Medical Center and Habitat for Humanity.

Compiled from Web and wire service reports.