When contracts are broken in Hollywood, millions are at stake.
Whether celebrities claim they were gypped out of back-end profit, they were unfairly fired, or production was halted before filming even began, they are often more than willing to drag the dispute into court.
Why? The media loves to cover even the most minor instances of celebrity drama, including legal battles, which usually leads to a trail of bad press for whomever dared to swindle a famous face out of funds. In most cases, contract disputes end in favour of the one who wields the most fame, though many settle out of court leaving the financial details private.
2010 has already brought the Conan/NBC battle, and we kind of wish the Jersey Shore salary demands had hit the Jersey court system. But, looking back, here’s a highlight reel of contract disputes from the land of glamour.
Players: 'Speed the Plow' producers vs. Jeremy Piven
Damages Sought: The financial penalty available against Piven was uncertain, and the play eventually recouped its investment.
Issue: Producers of the David Mamet play were peeved when Piven abruptly left the production, clinging to claims of mercury poisoning in December 2008.
Verdict: In arbitration last October, the final decision basically totally exonerated Piven.
Players: Robin Williams vs. Frank and Beans Productions
Damages Sought: $6 million
Issue: Williams claimed that the production company owed him money on a 'pay-or-play' deal for the film A Couple of Dicks in 2008.
Verdict: We can't confirm who won the money battle between Williams and Frank and Beans, but the movie was put through the Hollywood machine again and will appear in theatres this year as Cop Out with Bruce Willis and Tracy Morgan in the starring roles.
Players: Tim Hutton, Mary Steenburgen vs. MGM
Damages Sought: $9.75 million and $10.75 million
Issue: When the 1983 film Roadshow was shelved, its stars alleged that MGM skipped out on their contracts. Hutton and Steenburgen filed separate claims against the film company.
Verdict: Steenburgen's case was settled for an undisclosed sum, while a Los Angeles Superior Court ruled that MGM owed Hutton $9.75 million in 1989.
Players: Raquel Welch vs. MGM
Damages Sought: $20 million
Issue: Welch charged MGM execs of ruining her career by firing her from the 1980 film Cannery Row, accusing them of breach of contract, defamation and conspiracy.
Verdict: Welch was awarded $10.8 million ($8 million in punitive damages, $2 million in compensatory damages) in 1986, but MGM appealed saying the damages awarded were excessive. The case went all the way to California's Supreme Court in 1988, where the judgment was upheld. But it was eventually retried and the $8 million in punitive damages was replaced with $5 million for consequential losses.
Players: Sylvester Stallone vs. DEM Productions and FM Entertainment
Damages Sought: $20 million
Issue: Sly Stallone had a small cameo in the 'The Good Life,' a 1997 film starring Sly's brother Frank. But Stallone accused the filmmakers of promoting the film as if he had a starring role, so he sued them for breach of contract.
Verdict: The producers fired back with a suit of their own, asking for $50 million and alleging the Stallone brothers had backed out of their contracts and 'tried to take over the film.' After a protracted, 2-year legal battle, both sides settled in 1999.
Players: Dan Rather vs. Leslie Moonves, Sumner Redstone, CBS, and Viacom
Damages Sought: $70 million
Issue: After 60 Minutes aired a segment questioning George W. Bush's preferential treatment in the National Guard (based on a document that turned out to be fake) in 2004, Rather was called to the mat and demoted. Pushed from the anchor chair at CBS Evening News, he was relegated to a spot on 60 Minutes, which he claimed was insufficient and violated his contract. He also claimed the network was guilty of fraud for its purportedly meager investigation into the Bush documents.
Verdict: On appeal, the case was finally dismissed last year.
Players: James Gandolfini vs. HBO
Damages Sought: $100 million
Issue: The actor best known to most of the television-viewing public as Tony Soprano waged a legal battle against the premium cable channel in 2003. He reportedly wanted a raise from $400,000 an episode to between $1 and $2 million. He sued for breach of contract and HBO promptly countersued for $100 million in lost profits if Gandolfini could not cooperate. Taping of the fifth season stalled.
Verdict: Everybody wanted their Sopranos (and dollars), and the two parties settled their differences within weeks.
Players: Sharon Stone vs. Andrew Vajna and Mario Kassar
Damages Sought: $100 million
Issue: After producers Vajna and Kassar pulled the plug on Basic Instinct 2, Stone claimed they were reneging on a verbal 'pay-or-play' agreement that Stone would get $14 million for the follow-up film and 15% of the back end gross. Part of the price she demanded was for the loss of income from other projects she turned down so she could be available to film BI2.
Verdict: The film was eventually made, earning Stone a Razzie in the worst actress category in 2007.
Players: Don Imus vs. CBS
Damages Sought: $120 million
Issue: Shock-jock Imus referred to players on the Rutger's Women's basketball team as 'nappy headed' during one of his radio shows in 2007, prompting the radio network to fire him. While the FCC didn't consider the outburst actionable, CBS did. Imus had recently signed a five-year, $40 million contract and threatened to sue for unpaid wages and damages.
Verdict: Imus never followed through on his threatened suit since the two parties settled out of court. Just eight months later, Imus was back on the air as the proud owner of a new five-year contract with Citadel Broadcasting.
Players: Jeffrey Katzenberg vs. Disney
Damages Sought: $250 million
Issue: Actors aren't the only big-name players in entertainment companies who want their pay. In 1994, two years before his contract was set to expire, Katzenberg was forced out as head of the animated features division--the number three position at Disney under Michael Eisner. He sued for a quarter of a million dollars, alleging that he didn't get his proper cut of profits from Aladdin, The Beauty and The Beast and other films.
Verdict: A year later, the two sides announced a settlement, but Katzenberg's payout remains confidential.
Many stars of the big and small screen have been able to get what they wanted without a full-fledged legal complaint. Wielding the power of the press and potentially savvy bartering tactics, these stars tried to barter for bank, for better or worse. Arming themselves for a battle is at least deserving of an honorable mention...
The Friends cast: The superstars of NBC's Must-See-TV lineup (back in the days when the network actually had one) gathered together in 1996 and convinced the peacock network to pay each of them $100,000 each. They then used collective bargaining to raise their pay in 2000 and 2002, eventually earning $1 million per episode in the final season.
Paula Abdul: Last year, the kooky sidekick judge on Fox's American Idol announced she was leaving the slot between Simon Cowell and Randi Jackson after her contract desires couldn't be met. She reportedly wanted more than a 30% raise from the $2 million per year she was making.
Farrah Fawcett: After feather-haired Fawcett walked away from Charlie's Angels after just one season, Producer Aaron Spelling threatened to sue her for breach of contract. She agreed to guest appearances.
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