Prime-Time Salary Wars

Ancier said he needed a way to prove to the cast that NBC was serious about walking away from the biggest hit on its prime-time schedule. "So I asked the promotion department to cut promos saying 'you've loved them for seven years, see how it all ends with the series finale of Friends this Thursday at eight … People around me felt that was a little on the mean side, but I didn't see any other way to make the threat real."

The threat worked: the Friends came back to the negotiating table. Two years later, they got their $1 million-an-episode deal.

Did the Battle Begin in Dallas?

As J.R. Ewing, the grinning embodiment of oil-rich avarice on Dallas, Larry Hagman was one of the biggest stars on television in 1980. In May of that year, the "Who Shot J.R." episode became the second-most watched show in TV history. So Hagman decided it was time for a Texas-sized raise: from $15,000 an episode to $100,000. He went for it in true J.R. style. He even told his agents to wear white Stetsons.

"In essence I broke my contract. And whether that's morally good or not, I don't know," Hagman said.

But, he added jokingly, maybe Jennifer Aniston and the gang owe him a thing or two for breaking new ground. "I think all the kids on Friends should kick in 10 percent to ol' Lar' for starting a trend."

Hagman won his gamble, landing an escalating salary deal that topped out at $250,000 an episode. "I don't think I'm greedy. I think I'm getting paid what I was worth," Hagman said.

Littlefield remembers one time that a renegotiating actor — Diff'rent Strokes' Gary Coleman — got a big surprise, courtesy of NBC's witty chief, the late Brandon Tartikoff.

According to Littlefield, Tartikoff had put a framed photo of actor Emmanuel Lewis just behind a couch where Coleman was sitting. When Coleman glanced over his shoulder and noticed the photo, he got the message.

But not every actor goes back to work after a failed renegotiation. In the '80s, the sitcom Valerie was renamed The Hogan Family after NBC and the show's star, Valerie Harper, couldn't come to terms.

Perhaps the most famous battle in the history of the salary wars was the wrangling between Suzanne Somers and the producers of the hit sitcom Three's Company.

She was originally hired to play the blithe and bouncy Chrissy Snow on Three's Company for just $5,000 a show. But by season five, Somers had become a national sensation — featured on dozens of magazine covers and a best-selling poster as the sex-drenched sitcom hit it big.

Somers and her representatives were hoping to capitalize on her popularity. She astonished Three's Company's producers by asking for a huge raise: from $35,000 to $150,000 an episode, or an even more lucrative percentage of the show's proceeds.

"Now anybody at home is going well, cry me a river, because it's a lot of money. But here's the deal. When you're a struggling actor or actress, you hang in there in the hopes that you'll be one of the few that scores," she said.

Thinking back to that time, she says she knew what she was doing. Somers said, "I started realizing that this is a business. I'm seeing that the men are being paid four, five, 10 times more, and they're on shows that aren't as successful as mine."

Somers' demands backfired: her character was written out of the show.

"My career was dead, because the public got mad at me for being greedy. And I was portrayed as greedy. And really what I was asking for I still think I deserved it," she said.

After years in Hollywood limbo, Somers landed Step by Step in 1991. Today, she's at the helm of a multi-million-dollar self-help mini-empire. And in 1994, Somers saw her status as the networks' favorite "bad example' supplanted by David Caruso, who bolted NYPD Blue one year into its run. He spent eight years as a victim of the salary wars before C.S.I. Miami rescued him.

Ancier recalls how effective the Caruso example was. "In my NBC office, I had two doors. … on the way out, I had a color picture of David Caruso, and I … I just would point to it if I needed to, with particular performers. I didn't have to do it often, but they got the point right away."

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