Earlier this year, when Grey’s Anatomy star Katherine Heigl went through her very public salary negotiation and the very public chastising by ABC Television Studio that followed, she had at least one person in her corner. ”I really felt for her,” sympathizes Fox, recalling her own scuffle with CBS in 2004. ”There was an impression out there that I didn’t show up to work, but I wasn’t at work because I was fired ahead of the season. I think that’s the part that’s harder to live with.”
For an actor, speaking out about contract demands may seem like a smart PR or legal move, but the strategy can often backfire in Hollywood when it comes time to land the next job. After all, who wants to work with a troublemaker always looking for a bigger payday? ”Any time an actor negotiates in public, it is a bad idea,” warns crisis-management expert Howard Bragman. ”Some people have played the game and made millions doing it, while some overplay their hands. You have to be realistic about what show you are on, and the ratings, and how important you are perceived to be.” Adds a Big Four top executive, ”For an actor who actually leaves a series due to a contract-renegotiation impasse, it’s career suicide.” (See: David Caruso, post-NYPD Blue/pre-CSI: Miami.) ”If it’s just a run-of-the-mill renegotiation, generally it doesn’t hurt them in the future.”
It certainly didn’t hurt two-time Emmy winner Patricia Heaton, who prevailed financially after well-documented negotiations in 2003 on Everybody Loves Raymond. She’s once again commanding a six-figure-a-week salary starring on Fox’s Back to You. To Heaton, however, worrying about the public relations aspect of contract negotiations is ultimately pointless anyway. ”People don’t have time to worry about little things we went through. They forget about it the next day because someone shows up without underwear somewhere and somebody takes a picture of it,” says Heaton. ”You can make yourself think that people immerse themselves in that stuff, but mostly they don’t care. We think we’re more important to people than we actually are.” Some losers in the high-profile contract wars have learned that lesson the hard way.