Rob Morrow of CBS’ “Northern Exposure” and Michael Chiklis of ABC’s “The Commish” recently made headlines when they refused to report back to work unless they got a substantial pay raise. Both were hit with expensive lawsuits by the producers.
At press time, Morrow had reached an agreement with CBS and the producers. Chiklis also had returned to work, but was reportedly still in negotiations with Stephen J. Cannell Productions, which produces “The Commish” for ABC.
Television stars embroiled in disputes with producers, studios and networks is nothing new. But very few actors get what they initially demanded. More often, they find themselves out of work.
One of the biggest contract disputes involved not one, but two stars of “The Dukes of Hazzard.” In the spring of 1982, Tom Wopat (Luke Duke) and John Schneider (Bo Duke) walked off the series in a dispute over their salaries as well as their share of merchandising royalties.
Warner Bros. didn’t give in and held a nationwide talent hunt for replacements. Bryon Cherry and Christopher Mayer were hired from the 2,300 people who auditioned. Luke and Bo were sent on the NASCAR race circuit and their cousins, Coy (Cherry) and Vance (Mayer), suddenly returned home after a six-year absence. But the fans didn’t welcome the new Dukes, and Wopat and Schneider’s careers went into a tailspin. In February, 1983, the stars reached a settlement with Warner Bros. and returned to the series. Cherry and Mayer were history.
Warner Bros. had had its hands full 14 years earlier with Clint Walker, who starred in its top-rated ABC Western, “Cheyenne.” In 1958, Walker walked, wanting out of some of the more demanding aspects of his contract; for example, paying back 50% of all personal appearance fees to the studio. Warners didn’t budge and hired unknown Ty Hardin to replace him, playing ex-Confederate soldier Bronco Layne.
Legally prevented from working elsewhere, Walker settled his differences with Warners in early 1959 and Hardin got his own series, “Bronco.”
James Garner fared much better with Warners when he left his hit ABC series, “Maverick,” in 1960 demanding a better contract. Warners brought in a replacement: a pre-"Saint” Roger Moore as Cousin Beau Maverick, a former Texan who fought bravely during the Civil War and had resettled in England.
A court ruled in December, 1960, that Garner could not be held to his contract and he went on to post-Maverick fame.
In 1975, Wayne Rogers, who played Trapper John on CBS’ acclaimed “MASH,” left the series in a contract dispute--he wanted more control of the series’ content and direction. Trapper got a discharge and returned home, and Mike Farrell joined the cast as Dr. B.J. Hunnicut. The series continued for another six years. Rogers’ next two series, “City of Angels” and “House Calls,” were not huge successes. Although Rogers continues acting, he has also found success as an owner of the popular Hollywood eatery, Columbia Bar & Grill, and as a producer.
Suzanne Somers was another top TV star who became embroiled in a costly contract dispute. In 1980, Somers was a regular on the high-rated ABC sitcom “Three’s Company” when she asked for an increase in salary plus a percentage of the profits. The producers refused and her character was sent off to Fresno to take care of her sick mother. Jennilee Harrison was dispatched that season as the new roomie, Somer’s clumsy cousin, Cindy.
In the fall of 1981, Olympic decathlon champion Bruce Jenner joined the cast of NBC’s action-series “CHiPS” for several episodes as Officer Steve McLeish. The series’ beefcake star, Erik Estrada, had become involved in a salary dispute. Jenner soon found himself unemployed, though, when Estrada came to terms with the network that season.
Valerie Harper never returned to her popular NBC sitcom, “Valerie,” after her fall 1987 contract dispute. The producers renamed the series “Valerie’s Family,” killed off Harper’s character and brought in Sandy Duncan as her recently divorced sister-in-law. In June, 1988, the series was retitled “The Hogan Family.” It finally bit the dust in 1990.