Contract negotiations for the upcoming season of "Modern Family" just hit an epic snag: the show's six principle adult cast members Ty Burrell, Julie Bowen, Jesse Tyler Ferguson, Eric Stonestreet, Ed O'Neill and Sofia Vergara are suing the show's producer, 20th Century Fox, to void their current contracts, according to The Hollywood Reporter
The show was supposed to have its first table read for the new season today (July 24), but it was canceled at the last minute as the show's stars attempt to renegotiate their contracts with Fox. Negotiations are not going well, with the cast of the top-rated sitcom rejecting an offer that would have reportedly paid $150,000 per episode plus a $50,000 per episode bonus for this coming season, $200,000 per episode for next year's fifth season, $225,000 for the year after that, and up to $325,000 for a hoped-for ninth season.
While the cast is indeed looking for more money – they were angling for a flat $200,000 each for season four, and as much as double what Fox is offering for the theoretical season nine – a major point of contention in their contract dispute appears to be longer-term contracts they signed at the start of the show. THR reports the cast members want their original contracts voided, claiming they violate a Californian labor code that declares "contracts to render personal service may not be enforced beyond seven years from the commencement of service under it."
Burrell, Bowen, Stonestreet, Vergara and Ferguson were reportedly paid $65,000 per episode for season 3, while O'Neill, who started the show at a higher salary than his then-lesser-known (at the time) cast mates, earned $105,000 per episode.
O'Neill was not initially involved in the lawsuit because he was engaged in a different, but apparently equally contentious, negotiation. He has since reportedly joined his cast mates in their suit out of solidarity.
Deadline reports the suit took 20th Century Fox by surprise. Studio execs expected the actors to show up for work as their contract negotiations continue.
The cast's decision to boycott today's table read and sue is not unlike a move made by the cast of "Friends," who also negotiated their contracts together, ahead of the show's third season in 1996. The stars formed a unified front and threatened to boycott production unless they received salary increases to $100,000 each per episode. The tactic worked, and the cast not only got their raise, but their salaries rose as the show's popularity stayed strong, culminating in the cast earning $1 million each per episode by the end of the series.